Interview by Tom de Freston with Antonio Santin. Cambridge 2008.
Tom de Freston.-De Kooning said: ‘Flesh was the reason oil paint was created’. What correlation do you see between flesh and paint?
Antonio Santín.- It’s always fascinating the second in which we manage to doubt, suddenly seeing blood all over the brush, life on a canvas, weights inside colors…. Nothing is more addictive than setting traps for oneself, and succeeding in it. In my latest works I explore the limits of the dichotomy meat/flesh, and consequently those between hunger and desire. In my native language Spanish, both terms are included in the very same word, «carne», this semantic indistinction sums up somehow the tacit reflection in my work. Partially my intention, by choosing either a human head or a carcass is the analysis and reconstruction of its volume, as a soul vessel, containing a feeling or its lack. The way the oil layers settle, following the natural structures of meat and fat from the inside to the skin, is a testament to this analytic structural approach.
TF .-A number of artists have painted carcasses, Rembrandt, Soutine and
Jenny Saville all took on the carcass of a pig as a motif for their painterly explorations. What is it about the carcass, and particularly the pig, which you think has driven you, and perhaps others, to this subject?
AS-For me the transition from portraits to the pig´s masks was natural. In the portraits the importance is based primarily on the ability to grasp a unique psychological essence during my private dialogue with it. However, at a certain point, painting itself asked me for more freedom, adapting it to an exact resemblance seemed to be conditioning its wide potential. Every time I start working it implies learning and reflection, thus renouncing the spirit for the flesh offered me valuable lessons, the structure without resemblance was freedom and joy, pure dance to almost reach the vertigo of abstraction. There are of course anecdotes that led to the selection of the new imagery. Nevertheless I consider that once the departure words were assimilated, when they stopped making noise, just served as an excuse to fertilize the job. I´d also like to point out that anecdotes might destroy in the viewer the unique opportunity for the slow language of painting to transmit, instead providing «literary railings» from which leaning out over the cliff, inviting him to take pictures, instead of challenging him to understand what remains invisible.
TF -You seem to build up your surfaces in a very particular way. An almost fluorescent pink seems to be laid down first, later consciously loose highlights are laid over more meticulous surfaces. Talk us through your process.
AS Indeed, I build surfaces from the inside out, as if they were sculptures, so that the skin itself is constructed as a summary of everything contained in it. My essential technique is working with glazing, this is for me the most adequate technique capable of creating living matter. Both gold and fluorescent pink, my favorite bases, provide a valuable component of reflected light inside the paint, a certain glow of the flesh. Federico García Lorca defined poetry as the «a word in the right time». For me painting is also to be included in this definition. What I appreciate and seek is freshness, the speech short and efficient, but above all, the manifestation of sensitive intelligence. Painting is by nature a chaotic medium, I like to let it play free, watching, trying to lead it my way, and freezing it when alone or with my help does it approach subtly or blatantly a revelation.
TF -Rotting flesh, worn surfaces. Are your paintings fundamentally about transience? If so why?
AS The ephemeral is a paradoxical aspect of what is implied in my work. Painting is plainly a different language, it fossilizes the marks and visual perception of who uses it, but always survives the creator and the images represented. Artwork that interests me is fortunately still more immortal than the worker. In some Egyptian sarcophagi an oil portrait of the deceased was added, I like to think that if embalming fluids preserves the body, oil painting in turn could be a form of embalming the image, a way to mummify the soul. In the series «naturaleza muerta» and «gula», the meat/flesh is treated as a neutral material, like a mask or a dress. It interests me as a parallel, extended reflection of how to represent the digested desire and its decontextualization, hunger facing bulimia, the metamorphosis of the object of desire that happens after the understanding or consumption of it and thereby, the ridiculous and doubtful existence of any undesired proposal.
Tom de Freston. Cambridge 2008