MADRID — Jaime Colsa owns a transport company that delivers ordinary consumer goods — computers, food, drinks. The contents of his trucks aren’t eye-catching, but his vehicles certainly are, adorned with paintings showing cartoonlike faces, dogs, brightly colored geometric patterns, spirals and landscapes.
These trucks that crisscross Spain have been painted by artists as part of the Truck Art Project. Financed by Mr. Colsa, the project aims in part to bring street art back to its roots.
“Thanks to people like Banksy, this kind of art has made its way into the gallery,” Mr. Colsa, 45, said here recently. “But I thought it would be interesting and challenging to do the opposite — to get artists out of the gallery or the museum and actually back on the street.”
Banksy is not among the participants, but many of Mr. Colsa’s truck painters, most of whom are Spanish, started out as street artists, though by now they have also exhibited in major galleries and museums.
Abraham Lacalle, whose work has been shown at the Reina Sofía Museum here, painted what he called a truck’s “explosion,” inspired by thoughts of what could happen to the merchandise transported inside.
Two years after completing his painting, Mr. Lacalle said in a phone interview that it was strange to see how trucks and vans had more recently also become associated with terrorism, after attacks in Nice, Berlin, London and, earlier this month, Barcelona.
“I painted with some sense of humor, imagining what could happen to the content of a truck in movement,” he said. “Nobody was then thinking about trucks as a tool of terrorism, so a work that was meant to be fun could now unintentionally appear pretty provocative.”
The most recent truck was painted by Nuria Mora, whose street art has been included in a show at the Tate Modern in London. Her truck sports a brightly colored geometric abstraction that she described as “a game of balance and tension.”
The truck project was born when Mr. Colsa commissioned an artist, Okuda San Miguel, to paint a mural in 2013 on a warehouse for his company, Palibex, on the outskirts of Madrid. When it was done, Mr. Colsa told Mr. San Miguel that “it was a real shame to have this great work on a warehouse that so few people then get to see it.”
The conversation shifted to whether the painting could have been done on a vehicle rather than a wall. So far, Mr. Colsa has spent about €300,000, or around $327,000, on the truck project, which is overseen by two curators, Fer Francés and Óscar Sanz.
In some ways, Mr. Sanz said, the project was “a wink to 30 years ago,” when artists were decorating “the trains and trucks of New York.” Some of those artists have become more established and also more used to painting on larger areas, like murals on buildings. But painting a truck is different.
“Movement makes it something of a fleeting vision,” he said. And, he added, since many of the artists chosen used to tag trucks or subway cars (or had peers who did), they “enjoyed the challenge of returning to where their kind of art started.”
At first, Mr. Colsa said, the response was mixed, both from his drivers and some of his customers. One driver, he said, complained to management, because he believed that his truck had been vandalized and splashed with “horrible paint.” Attitudes, however, have changed.
Some of the truckers “couldn’t understand what kind of idiotic thing had been painted on their truck,” Mr. Colsa said. “But they now see that people really watch them drive past and often photograph their truck, so they’re delighted.”
As the project has grown, more artists have been drawn to it, to the point that Mr. Colsa said he now has a waiting list of artists. Many of them, he said, were drawn to the project because of their interest in the unusual interaction between the artwork and the viewers.
Again it comes down to movement. “Paintings generate a very different experience depending on from where they are watched,” he said. “The viewer normally does the moving to get to see the art, while we’re bringing the art to him, in a very unexpected manner.”
The artists can paint what they want, and also choose among the models in Mr. Colsa’s fleet of trucks. “Some artists prefer a smaller truck, especially if they work with paint brushes and oil,” he said, “while others specifically ask to work on the larger, long-distance trucks, also because they want to imagine how other drivers react when they overtake the truck on a highway.”
Mr. Sanz, one of the curators, said there was interest in replicating the project overseas, including in the United States and Mexico.
In June, Mr. Colsa withdrew the first two trucks that had been painted as part of his project, including Mr. San Miguel’s, because of the wear-and-tear that the paintings had suffered. The more recent artwork, he said, would last longer because the artists were now using a stronger coating to protect their paintings.
“They should last 10 or 12 years without needing any repainting, but not forever,” he said. “This kind of work is meant to live, but also die at some stage.”