As a Gallery Director and Curator, I strive to exhibit thought-provoking and engaging work. It is always exciting to support an artist that I truly believe in and would own in my personal collection. For the next part of our Emerging Artist series, I knew Brandon Santiago would be perfect.
Santiago is a young, up-and-coming painter, local to the area. Raised in Palm Coast, Santiago returned home after studying Graphic Design and Studio Art at USF. When asked why he returned home rather than exhibiting in cities such as New York or Miami, he stated “I want to build a base, a foundation first.” That’s one thing that I love about Brandon, he understands the depth of his work and the impact that I truly believe it will have in the future.
Santiago has been an artist most of this life. His parents remember his drawings of items he wished for on his Christmas list while just a child. He even played with watercolor, a difficult medium for most artists, at a young age; However, it was not until later in high school that he began to take art seriously. He found the mentorship of local international expressionist painter JJ Graham, co-founder of Salvo Art Project in Bunnell. He credits Graham in guiding him to find his own path. Through Graham, and other mentors, Brandon continues to grow as an artist. Graphic Design, he continues, taught color theory and composition. Studio Art allowed the artist to experiment, a tool he states continues to aid his growth as an artist to this day. His work is based on experimentation and split-second decision making, often in the moment. As an abstract expressionist, he creates intuitively, allowing his feeling in that moment to reveal itself in his work. He will often paint live, allowing those around him to impact his work. He thrives on the pressure of pleasing the viewer, although he is often emotionally drained after a live painting session. In the studio, in contrast, he finds himself to be truly free. In this private space, he can remove distraction, listen to his music, and truly experience the moment. Sometimes this is a struggle he is facing. Other times, it is a feeling he is experiencing. While at others, he comes to the canvas with no intention, simply allowing his intuition to take over. He listens to music to inspire his work. Rap and Jazz are his genres of choice. Jazz, he argues, is like his work, layered. Just as Jazz layers various instruments, his work is made of layers – layers of color, shape, and strokes.
Santiago notes that he does not force himself to paint every day. If he does, it is evident in the work. Rather he steps away, takes a break, and comes back to the canvas in a few days. As a gallerist, I love this maturity in an artist. I can see when an artist is forcing a work - something is just off. I appreciate that he understands himself and the artistic process enough to take a step back. Clearly, patience is a virtue this young artist has taken to heart.
Another aspect that has struck my gallerist intrigue is Santiago’s artistic inspirations. He draws influence from Picasso (Cubism) and Basquiat (abstract expressionism). Visually, this is obvious in his work. Early in his career, Santiago’s work most clearly referenced Basquiat. Santiago feels a unique connection to the famous artist, having similar diverse cultural backgrounds, Basquiat of Haitian and Puerto-Rican descent and Santiago of Jamaican and Puerto-Rican descent. They have a similar aesthetic and style (abstract expressionism). When he was just 18 years old, at an exhibition in NYC titled Destroy your Icons, Santiago had the realization that he too could be an iconic artist, like Basquiat. This exhibition, he argues, challenged his thinking. He felt empowered. He too could be a great artist; but, he wants to do it his way. While he continually nods to Picasso and Basquiat in his work, he wants to create his own legacy as an artist, make his own impact on his viewers.
Just as human anatomy, namely skulls, is an iconic element in Basquiat’s work, Santiago often creates figures and body parts in his abstract images. For this series, currently on display at GALLERY500 through June 2022, Santiago expanded on this concept. While taking a figure drawing class, Santiago experimented with replicating the figure he saw before him while also allowing his intuition to take over. Whilst the pieces in this collection are figurative, the artist allowed himself to let go of the preconceived notions of how this figure is meant to look, and focused on the line, shape, and color that he saw or felt within the scene, within that moment. Once again, for a young artist, in the infancy of his artistic career, to think on such a level and challenge his own artistic process for the sake of growth is astounding to me. He truly hopes to inspire his viewer. Inspire them to think differently, experience his work and feel something. He wants to leave an impact on the viewer. When asked about his legacy, he succinctly states “to be a great artist, but do it my way.” He is well on his way to being just that and I am truly excited to see what the future has in store.
Santiago’s work will be featured at the gallery through the month of June. I invite you to stop in to see his work in person or check it out online. Watch the full video below or check it out here. To meet the artist, join us Thursday, June 16th from 5 - 7 PM for ur featured artist reception at GALLERY500. The reception is open to the public.
-Your GALLERY500 Director,