Sweeping something under the rug: in conversation with Antonio Santin

Madrid-based Antonio Santin unravels the mystery behind the anthropomorphic forms that eerily lie beneath his rug paintings - an ornate excuse to represent what’s invisible.

by Urvi KothariPublished on : Dec 22, 2022

“When you look at one of my paintings from afar it can be very deceiving. I have seen the reaction of many beholders, often confused, not knowing if they are looking at a sculpture, a real rug... it’s quite amusing!” These works reflect on the compositions of Madrid-based Antonio Santin, whose genre defining art has taken over the global art scene. The magic lies within the details that adorn the surface of Santin’s canvas. What looks like intricately embroidered tapestries with fringed detailing, when given a closer gaze, engulfs the beholder into a composition worth thousands of paint strokes. Antonio’s oil paint composition mimics the texture of a weaver’s skill, transforming a blank canvas into a visual treat to the eye. A typical day in Antonio’s studio is incredibly busy. “There are always several paintings in progress that I watch evolve like little babies, there are many decisions that have to be made. During my day, when I am not busy with the rug series, I dedicate a part of my time to reading and receiving input. Another part is to work on new ideas and finally there’s the experimentation process. I work as much as I can,” he shares.

Portrait of Antonio Santin | Antonio Santin | STIRworld
Artist Antonio Santin Image: Courtesy of Antonio Santin

The Persian patterned rug design series is Antonio’s latest muse as he explores ideas of opacity of fabric as a device to obscure with abstract patterns and textures. Surprisingly, Antonio started his artistic career exploring human representation or rather simply figurative art. But all it took was a photoshoot that bumped the Spanish artist into his magnum opus, the rug series. “I remember during a photoshoot, the idea of hiding the model under the carpet came to my mind. I remember when I saw the bulky rug through the camera lens, I immediately realised what a powerful image that was. It had all the psychological tension of a person, but I had literally gotten rid of the body. The result was sublime, equally dark and humorous, heavy and beautiful,” says Antonio.

Corporate Immortality, 2019, Oil on canvas, Antonio Santin | Antonio Santin | STIRworld
Corporate Immortality, 2019, Oil on canvas Image: Courtesy of Antonio Santin

This very idea transformed into Santin’s signature motif. Most of his ornate pieces hold anthropomorphic forms eerily hidden beneath the patterned carpets. Beneath layers of dots, spirals and brush strokes of oil paints, there is a clear outline of a defined form, more like a human body. The outcome is enigmatic but seductive, intimidating but unsettling, real but illusionary. Antonio describes his work as, “a figurative painting without a figure, an ornate excuse to represent what’s invisible.” Thus, this illusion blurs the line between paintings and sculptural renditions.

Inner Garden, 2018, Oil on canvas, Antonio Santin | Antonio Santin | STIRworld
Inner Garden, 2018, Oil on canvas Image: Courtesy of Galerie Isa & Antonio Santin

There is a continuous perceptual dialogue between light and shadow, as the artist juxtaposes flattened surfaces with tangible curvature. There is a visceral tension between surface and space, scale and scope that Antonio achieves with a range of techniques. Decoding his labour-intensive techniques, Antonio gives us an insight into what it really takes into achieving the perfect illusion. “For instance, the painting looks similar to relief work. In actuality, it is solely oil paint which is used as a sculptural medium to build up the pattern. Initially, I used squeezable bottles to push the paint out through fine tips. The result was dynamic and painterly. Thereafter, I started using technology by means of an air compressor that’s connected to special syringes filled with oil paint. This way I can create fine threads of colours that I shape into an array of micro reliefs. This process is very labour intensive and time consuming. The second illusion is a trompe l’oeil, when the base relief of a painting is completed, I intervene by glazing the oil paint with brushes. The outcome is a mixture between a patina and a chiaroscuro. If done well the flat painting acquires tri dimensionality all of a sudden. The third illusion is the image I am proposing, which belongs to the collective imagination. We all have heard the expression sweeping something under the rug, what’s in fact hidden is abstract, that idea belongs to the beholder.”

Et Cetra Parade, 2019, Oil on canvas, Antonio Santin | Antonio Santin | STIRworld
Et Cetra Parade, 2019, Oil on canvas Image: Courtesy of Galerie Isa & Antonio Santin

Apart from the intriguing compositions, Antonio’s artwork titles are a conversation starter in their own right. Thus, this experience of mystery and illusion extends beyond the canvas. Decoding some of his artwork titles, Antonio shares, “I understand a good title is something that accompanies a painting although it shouldn’t define it. With that idea in mind my titles are part of my life, like a diary, something that I fix in a material way but it could also be a simple stroke of inspiration. Sometimes I look at a finished painting and a word appears out of the blue, so I allow it to remain. ‘Ya mañana’ is a classical expression in Spanish about procrastination. Ever since I moved back to Madrid in 2018, I have been using more Spanish words in my titles. It feels good to be home! Not My Circus Not My Monkeys belongs to a period of my life when I was dealing with more drama than I needed. I have named several paintings with names of streets such as Montrose Ave I used to live in or pass by frequently, and have fond memories associated with it.”

Montrose Avenue, 2019, Oil on canvas, Antonio Santin | Antonio Santin | STIRworld
Montrose Avenue, 2019, Oil on canvas Image: Courtesy of Antonio Santin

Imitating embroidery techniques with oil paints, Santin’s rugs have cast a spell of magic and awe on the beholder’s mind. These compositions - taking an average of about six months to achieve perfection in its intricacy - leave an air of mystery. One can’t help but imagine lifting up the embroidered rug to peek under the beautiful facade and identify the human beneath. Listening to “Juan Luis Guerra, Heroes del silencio and flamenco”, Antonio preps for his upcoming exhibit at the Galerie Isa in Mumbai in January 2023.

Gravitas at Galerie ISA, 2021 Video: Courtesy of Galerie Isa and Antonio Santin

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