Antonio Santin (Hi-Fructose Vol. 18) is an artist as mysterious as the pallid, aristocratic protagonists in his paintings. Elements of the Baroque and film noir linger in his work like the puffs of smoke one might imagine floating through the dark ambiance of Santin’s dimly lit interiors. While many have tried to investigate the symbolism his poignant paintings, Santin attributes these mysterious elements to chance. He considers painting to be a way of unveiling the artist’s psyche — whether intentional or not, every artistic choice is loaded with autobiographical meaning. The artist has a solo show opening on September 8 at Marc Strauss Gallery in NYC. He sat down with us to discuss his new body of work.
Your early work was very focused on the subjects’ faces. What lead you to shift your focus to the silhouette of the body and how it responds to various fabrics and materials?
Painting is essentially a superficial activity, the artist’s psychology translates into a certain colored texture that will in turn eventually trigger or host the unique psychology of the beholder. Thus, according to this transitional synesthesia, any represented face is an enlivened mask. My background is sculpture, a discipline that could as well be defined as the development of structural strategies that end up supporting a surface. Not being its main raison d’être, the surface does conceal and contain the essence of the volume, whose physicality permeates its vessel while existing often only in the territory of the imagination. Therefore, whether it is a face, a dress or a rug, for me, it’s all about grasping what is hidden or concealed.
Painting solitary women has always been your trade mark. They are always depicted in lavish settings: These are upper class women. Yet they frequently appear lonely or melancholy. Is this a commentary on social class?
There’s no conscious message in my paintings, there’s nothing I want to say, express or comment on. Nevertheless, I’m aware that art always expresses something despite the creator. Art is pure exhibitionism because it is free, every single unconstrained choice determines or explains loud and clear who you are or who you are not.
The fabrics you paint have a very silky, tactile quality. What sparked your interest in textiles and tapestries?
Most of the best things happening in a painting can only be witnessed when your face is one inch away from the canvas. It is not a coincidence that I work on such large formats as I enjoy adjusting the fabric’s proportions in order to deconstruct and reinvent the very intertwined essence of certain textures and weaves. As I was developing these solitary women, my fetishism for dresses became so predominant in the composition that I decided to expand it to the limits of the canvas. This, together with a hint of black humor, initiated the rug series.
Some of your characters’ poses seem lifeless. Even in the paintings where we only see the silhouette of the body under the tapestry, it is hard to tell if these figures are dead or alive. Tell me about this haunting element.
This matter is often discussed. However, the question is irrelevant to me as I understand this compositions as still lifes. Inanimation characterizes the painting but it is the beholder who gives or takes breath away.
Tell me about your painting process. Do you work with models? Do you use photoshop to create the compositions?
Image processing software is another step among the gradual distortions that I subject my models to. The final composition must comply with a certain structural balance, often driven by an elusive gut feeling. The same happens with the format, I need to project the image on the wall and play with the size until I find the unique proportion. Computers are a priceless sketching tool.
What ideas influenced your new series of paintings for the solo show at Marc Straus Gallery? Are these works different from your previous or continuing a line of exploration?
This is my last year’s work, which is consistent with my previous imagery. I believe I’ve made significant advantages, although in this field, like in athletics, a breakthrough is no more than a hundredth of a second. Some of the images are the result of a very intense and specific research on a topic. This said, serendipity still makes the best out of my endeavors.