Cesar Santos: Transposing the Past
Cuban painter Cesar Santos borrows freely from the past in a way that’s exciting and fresh. Like a pop quiz of art history, it rewards those who know their stuff—from Michelangelo and Katsushika Hokusai, to Rembrandt and Vermeer, to Keith Haring and Jackson Pollock. He calls this blending of art movements—Renaissance with street graffiti, cubism with contemporary realism, impressionism with Pop Art, printmaking with modern figurative—Syncretism, a word that he created to begin to capture his sampling from art history.
Santos will unveil new works that smash together art movements from around the world, as well as large works from a fresh series of paintings, at a new show opening April 14 at Maxwell Alexander Gallery in Los Angeles. Santos, who is currently living in Miami, has not shown before on the West Coast and is thrilled at the opportunity to bring his unique pieces to a new audience in California. “As soon as I saw the incredible space, I knew I had to do something very special,” he says. “It inspired me to do these big paintings on linen, which will be a lot of fun to show.”
Works in the exhibition include Annunciation, which borrows heavily from Botticelli’s 15th-century The Annunciation and figures from Pablo Picasso four centuries later. “I loved this idea of Botticelli’s work with a cubist piece, and transforming it from this Renaissance work to this broken form of the cubist idea,” Santos says. “I’m always trying to integrate technique, and studying the masters to see how they composed different elements to create a unified vision. A lot of it is about edge control and values, and once you get it right you can combine things freely.”
In Across, Santos brings in the figure of Venus de Milo as she pushes herself out of a classical gilt frame, while behind her is a background that calls out to Japanese artist Takashi Murakami and 14th-century Italian painter Giotto. “Venus was my ideal beauty. So I took my model and painted the sculpture’s head as if it was model’s head,” he explains. “I wanted her playfully escaping from her past into the present, as if she was leaving her classical antiquity behind her.”
Santos also paints the recent $450 million auction record breaker, Salvator Mundi, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. Santos’ painting, Salvator Artistis, has the Jesus figure holding a can of special paint made for boats. “It’s the most everlasting paint,” he says. “It’s made to withstand salt and crazy weather. It’s a playful element about the creation of art. Is the painting it’s based on really by da Vinci? It doesn’t matter because art is about the idea. In the background I put a Willem de Kooning, who was very against traditional art and suggested it be removed from museums.”
The Miami artist will also be showing his massive portraits that he has painted on loose pieces of gessoed linen. The paintings are large-scale renderings of sketchbook drawings. “I’m taking them out of the sketchbook and amplifying them onto the raw linen. I prepare the linen with a couple of coats of clear gesso. The paintings are meant to look unfinished because they’re sketchbook drawings made gigantic,” he says, adding that he’s even adding little notes and color samples to give it a more complete sketchbook feel. “What is a masterpiece? Is it something intimate from a sketchbook? Or is it something bigger and done with storytelling in mind? I wanted to ask these questions with these works.”
Courtesy of American Art Collector magazine. For more work by Cesar Santos, click here.