Cesar Santos
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The Interview: Cesar Santos’ Syncretism – a Balance between Classical and Conceptual Art


Cesar Santos is a contemporary Cuban-American artist residing in Miami. He is world-renowned for his exquisite technique in oil painting and drawing, as well as his original style known as ‘syncretism’. He studied at Miami Dade College, the New World School of the Arts and the Angel Academy of Art in Florence, which allowed him to learn painting from contemporary and classical perspectives. He received numerous prestigious awards and his works have been on exhibit in museums around the globe – Annigoni Museum in Florence, Beijing Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art in Sicily and the National Gallery in Costa Rica. He is part of the Living Masters' Gallery at the Art Renewal Center (USA).

Cesar Santos.
Cesar Santos.
"Page 6 (Quincy)"
The paining: oil and charcoal on linen, 213*182 cm.

– Tell us about your contemporary and classical perception painting.

– I guess it was that I grew up with the intuition to go against the current and that way I would find myself in a unique position. I also loved portraiture and for some reason I loved to draw but I wasn’t learning it. And as soon as I saw that there was a possibility to learn it, I immediately became super hungry for that. And I also saw it as a business opportunity because I thought, “Well, if I could create this type of art, which has been successful for hundreds of years, if I could make it in a unique and contemporary way, not only would I be helping to inspire my generation, but it would also be a journey worth taking. And I’ll probably bring something new to my town and to Miami, which is full of contemporary art”. At the beginning, I knew that it was going be tough because I was laughed at and made fun of when I showed my passion for classical art, and the cool kids and teachers told me, “That has already been done, let’s go beyond that”. And I said, “No, not until I handle that”. So for me it was a complete project – a project of a statement about my time and a romantic project about enjoying nature and being able to learn how to use the tools to tell a story.

I also wouldn't take away all the credit from my contemporary art training, even though now I wouldn't do it again because a lot of time was lost to it. The good part of the contemporary training was that it connected me to the art world. It showed me how it works and the transition between the conceptual artist and making it to the museum shows. I saw it around me and it was good. Because if I had only studied classical art, I probably would have missed the connection between art and the market. As I see some people are isolated. I’ve always felt that the vibration and poetry of our time are better learnt in established schools. That is why they are established and are part of our time. So I think negating it and going against it without understanding it would be of no use because I want to be successful in my time. And I want to bring back the old school to these new times.

Cesar Santos.
Cesar Santos.
Intimacy. Oil on linen, 80* 67 cm.

– And is this how you found your style, which you call ‘syncretism’?

– Yes, this is me in the middle of the contradiction. Some of my friends would tell me, “Don’t do classical art”, and my other friends who like classical art would say, “Don’t concern yourself with contemporary art”, so I thought, “Let’s make a mixture of these two things and call it syncretism and make these opposing schools of art live together within a painting”.

– Do you have a favourite work of art amongst your own works?

– That's so tough for me to say because I do have some works that I have liked, but for some reason I detach from them as soon as I finish painting and I go for the next project and I always think that what I did was not 100% good. I always think of the next one and I am excited about the next one and I don't care about previous works.

Cesar Santos.
Cesar Santos.
Salvator Artistis. Oil on linen, 43*63 cm.

– And approximately how many works of art have you made up until now?

– Oh my God, it has to be like a thousand or something like that! That's a combination of sketchbook, oil paintings and drawings. I constantly work and I've been working for years so it must be a lot of works!

– How many hours a day do you usually work?

– I think the whole time - at least 14 hours. Pretty much. If not, I combine it with the time to go for a walk for half a day, then I draw, then I think of ideas. I pretty much work the whole day.

– How long do you work on one painting?

– It takes about two weeks, or less if it is a small one. As soon as I solve a problem, I am done! It also depends on how many hours a day I work on a painting.

Cesar Santos.
Cesar Santos.
Three graces. Oil on linen, 121*101 cm.

– What inspires you in your creative process?

– For me, inspiration comes in two different ways. Either by going to museums and then coming back with better ideas and more motivation to work... so definitely looking at the works of old master painters in the museums that I love, and they inspire me, or contemporary installations that really upset me a little bit and that also motivates me to work against them or complement them! So galleries and museums are the source of inspiration. But also my life in general. I am inspired by my life. I am always trying to stay positive and take energy and inspiration from everything I do. So my whole life becomes like art.

– What are your favourite museums?

– The Prado was incredible and also the Hermitage was very nice! I had the privilege and luck to be invited to St. Petersburg in 2009 by the painter Alexander Novoselov, who teaches at the Repin Academy. I met him in Sweden. I visited a few museums with him in St. Petersburg and it was incredible. I go to a lot of museums and I don’t have a favourite one yet! You never know what you’re gonna find and I’ve found so many amazing paintings in different museums…

– What philosophy do you present in your art and what ideas would you like to convey to future generations?

– That’s a deep one! I take it as a practical thing. I’m with this situation in my time that I’ve spent so much time building and learning the technique that I think overall my work is mainly about that.

The overall message of what I paint about is to bring back the high standards and high quality in art.

I think, in time, that would be more of my place. I want to be that guy that was in the time when things were deteriorating and the meaning was being lost from our lives and our existence in the world. Maybe we can rescue that back - that romanticism, that depth of observing nature - and express it and bring back those ideals. And then you can talk about different things. It is hard not to fall into illustration – you have to keep it abstract. So the message - the big message - is the important one for me.

Cesar Santos.
Cesar Santos.
Restorers. Oil on linen, 73*99 cm.

– Do you collect art? How do you choose works of art for your collection?

– The beginning of my idea to collect came out of necessity. Here in Miami, there was no traditional museum, no master paintings around, and I missed that! That is why I moved – I lived in Sweden, Italy and New York to have access to this art. But when I moved to Miami, I realised that I wanted to create an environment where I can live comfortably without having to move. So I liked the idea of living in Miami but I missed the art. Then I decided to invest money into art that feeds me and teaches me - if I go to auctions or if I have the lot to meet maybe a collector who wants to trade. And my purpose for collecting is pretty much obvious: how to interpret certain aspects of nature. For instance, I want to have how they painted a young kid in the 19th century, or an older man, or dark hair, or light hair, or hands. My collection is mainly based on how different aspects of a human were represented in 19th century paintings, like a personality or angles. When I went to Florence, I went to this market and saw this Indian man from the 19th century. So I thought - that’s rare! It is hard to find dark skin colour from that era from an Italian painter! So I immediately got it. The guy who was selling it said he had had it for a while and nobody wanted to buy it for a long time, but for me it was a treasure.

– Who are your favourite artists?

– I have a lot! I love art so much that some artists also get boring for me. For example, I like some portraits of Rembrandt but then, after a while, I need something more rendered or more academic, so then I go with William Bouguereau. Sometimes, I want to have more emotion but with that style so then I choose Théodore Géricault. It depends… I wouldn’t call names of artists but I would just remember paintings that caught my attention.

– What is your motto?

– It is focusing on just one thing and working on it all the time unless you are obligated not to work on it. As time passes, the things that you do accumulate and then people look at you as if you are special, because you do a little special thing every day.

All images courtesy of Cesar Santos.

Official website of Cesar Santos: http://www.santocesar.com/


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