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Her XL Paintings Question The Female Objectification
Angela Santana embrace the internet as modern day muse
Feature 25 May 2020

NYC-based Angela Santana disrupts the classical approach to oil paint, deconstructing and reinterpreting it with digital imagery in mind. Working with the mass of illicit images online, her larger than life figures zoom into the female body, embracing the internet as her modern day muse. With a practice rooted around rejecting the classical, conservative, male dominated industry and their depiction of women throughout history, her work aims to be powerful, rather than pleasing. We spoke to Angela about body positivity in art, her inspirations and what she’s been up to in quarantine. 

How did you first get into art

Very early on, I developed a passion for painting and drawing. My parents were always supportive of the arts. When I was a kid, they arranged large paper rolls in the garden that kept me busy for days. Maybe that’s where the large formats in my art come from, I’m intrigued to play with scale.

Who and what are your influences?

The internet or books can be as much of an inspiration as music and film. Sometimes I approach a new painting with a clear tonality in mind, that can reflect an emotion translated by color intensity. Or a musical composition can inspire the composition of a painting and its development. I also keep massive folders, physical and digital, of inspiration like film stills or poems.

Monument, 2018, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 in. Image courtesy Angela Santana

You champion female body positivity, why is it important to you?

The female body has been in the focus of my practice since art school.  Whether for reasons of my own experience and emotion, or to observe, examine and reinvent the forms and shapes of the female body. Or be it for aspects of the social and political role of women. All these interests brought me to the series I’m pursuing currently. I am transforming objectified imagery of women found online – and turn them into a new narrative. At the beginning of this current series, I realised that I had to free myself. I loved painting female forms, but I already knew how a painting would look like before I finished. There was a moment when I realised that the way I paint, perhaps even the way I looked at the world and at myself, was influenced by the sum of existing images I have seen. How a woman has to look has been defined, largely by men, throughout history. I take real pleasure in turning these images into something new. Powerful rather than pleasing. Combining digital painting with oil painting allowed me to approach the human figure differently.

Your work combines digital elements with oil paintings, how do you feel about the digitisation of the art world?

Art is always a mirror of society, and digitisation in art is a good example of that. Artists will always embrace new technologies to be reflected in new work. Personally I’m interested in new and ancient techniques alike, and in the seamless combination of both. I’m excited to see new forms of art develop in the near future – through and beyond VR, Algorithms and AI. We’ve hardly scratched the surface yet, and already there has been incredible work by digital artists – blowing my mind.

Stranger, 2016, oil on canvas, 100 x 68 cm. Image courtesy Angela Santana

Who are your art world sheroes?

Last year, I had the honour to be invited to the “Female Old Masters” exhibition at Sotheby’s. Seeing the works of trail blazers like Vigée Le Brun or Fede Galizia was impressive. Then many other greats like Louise Bourgeois, Marlene Dumas, Miriam Cahn, Linder Sterling, Lee Krasner, Tschabalala Self, Cindy Sherman, Cecily Brown, are all amongst my long time favourite artists. And of course you can’t forget about Gallery-Sheroes like Karma International, Bridget Donahue, Arcadia Missa and The Untitled Space. Oh, and I’ve always admired Alison Jacques Gallery.

What advice would you give to your women wanting to make a career as an artist?

That’s a hard one to answer because there is no formula. It’s different for everyone. I’d say make the work that excites you. Create what is true to you. Learn and unlearn every day. Push yourself to where it’s almost uncomfortable. Question everything and then let go. Play and have fun!

The Achievement, 2015, oil on canvas, 1.2 x 1.2 m. Image courtesy Angela Santana

What have you been up to in quarantine?

I have been experimenting and researching with printing techniques and different materials that will be introduced in my new works, and I’m constantly painting new pieces.There has been so much going on here, it’s a strange time but an equally inspiring time for everyone to create in the quiet of isolation. I think we all feel renewed energy and currently I’m working on two separate collaborations. By the way, if anyone knows of art supply shops that are open in New York – let me know, I’m running low on supplies. 

Galore, 2018, oil on canvas, 80 x 60 in. Image courtesy Angela Santana

What are your plans and hopes for the future?

Everyone’s actions have a direct effect on our future, especially now. I’m hoping that people are making smart choices this year, shaping the future positively and supporting local communities and independent entities. And for myself, I’m planning to continue to make work, experiment with new possibilities and materials, and hope to show in galleries and platforms that I admire.

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