Standing in front of an Antonio Santin painting, you half expect to have a police inspector stood by the side of you scribbling wildly in his notebook, and Hercule Poirot ready to announce his conclusion to a room full of well-dressed people shifting nervously in their seats. This is because the paintings of New York-based artist Santin—which are as beautiful as they are mysterious—cheat the eye into thinking there is a human body hidden underneath a rich Oriental rug.
The Rug Series has already captured the imagination of visitors to Art Central in Hong Kong, and now, he is launching more pieces to show in Singapore in December. The result that Santin wants to achieve with each painting is simple. “I want the viewer to feel they are on the right side of the carpet,” he jokes. However, the true for the creation of each painting is more complex. Inspired by Sir John Everett Millais’ painting Ophelia, Santin believes that a body not fully on show is even more intriguing than one that you can see. “I ducked Ophelia’s body under the swamp waters and I realised that her rippling absence felt more real than her presence,” he explains.
While the intricacy of each piece reveals how much work has gone into each painting, the calm appearance belies the energetic form used to create the piece. “I use tons of latex gloves due to the elaborate yet rudimentary way to apply oil paint on the canvas… With the colours spread all around, it’s such a mess,” says Santin. Each work starts out as a still-life photograph projected against a wall, and then Santin uses contrasting light and dark brush strokes to give these two-dimensional paintings, a 3D quality. The former sculptor has used his skills to carve out mysterious bodies in his paintings by layering acrylic and oil on the canvas. Working on several different pieces at one time, Santin takes around two months to finish each piece. Constantly standing on a ladder, he is spurred on by listening. Or, if he needs further inspiration he turns to poetry to “push emotional limits.” The results are astounding. These mystical rugs draw the viewer and make you want to peel them back and discover what’s underneath.
“The Rug Series is trompe l’oeil illusionism,” says Santin. “Painting is generally restricted to a twodimensional surface, however, these paintings could be perceived as sculptural reliefs as well.” As he prepares for his solo exhibition in New York, Santin reveals the work that he is most proud of is “always the one in progress.” Santin adds: “Once a painting is varnished, done and sealed… I feel a certain melancholic sense of detachment. I’m proud and happy to spend my days painting.”