“The Conversation” (above) and “Long Journey” appear in the book Conversations in Paint Language: The Art of Roseta Santiago. Santiago says she is inspired by artists John Singer Sargent, Hovsef Pushman and Emil Carlsen.
Conversations in Paint Language: The Art of Roseta Santiago is a handsome book. The plates, printed in Italy, are rich and lush with the chiaroscuro of the artist’s still-life imagery: American Indian pottery, often chipped or broken; a Confucius statue peering at a Tibetan inkwell; a rabbit figurine turned as if looking into a nest.
Santa Fe resident Santiago paints stories that begin in the past and extend into the present. This makes her work timeless, somewhat traditional, yet contemporary. The 144-page book features 75 colored plates. There are paintings with a hint of whimsy, yet turn the page and there is a painting nuanced with romanticism. Turn another page and the painting is threaded with symbolism.
Santiago, who says she is inspired by artists John Singer Sargent, Hovsef Pushman and Emil Carlsen, is compared in the accompanying introductions to Rembrandt and Vermeer. The dark backgrounds of her work and the play of light on her canvas deem this remark believable.
Santiago is herself a striking woman, and her personality is described vividly in introductions by Executive Director Maureen C. Files with the Quinlan Visual Arts Center in Gainesville, Ga., and gallerist Deborah Fritz-Leyden with Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art in Santa Fe. Both describe the artist as being as valuable as her art.
“Over the months, I experienced first-hand the inimitable Santiago whirlwind, a perfect storm of thoughtful gifts and notes, no-nonsense business advice, and excited phone calls bursting with news,” Fritz-Leyden writes.
“I am so proud to count Roseta as one of my closest personal and professional friends. Not a day goes by that I don’t look forward to her phone calls, to hear another wonderful success story or her excitement about a new painting,” Files writes.
These two glimpses into the whirlwind presence known as Roseta Santiago are reinforced in “Conversations with a Paintslinger,” an essay by Bob Saar that is typeset poetically on the left-hand pages of the book. Saar’s writing is musical and poetic. It jumps around like a spontaneous jazz composition.
Saar writes that Santiago is the voice, telling the tales of the artifacts she paints. But Santiago wants to express more than narrative in her painting.
“The Native American vessels I paint are beautiful objects, lovely artifacts, which have many dimensions,” Santiago writes. “When I visualize kachinas dancing around that pottery long ago, and the ceremonies with kivas in the background, I think, ‘Why not paint that feeling of ceremony and mystery?'”
In his text, Saar does not explore the ceremony and mystery of Santiago’s work. He takes a more grounded approach, making the reader aware of everything from the music Santiago listens to while she paints, to how she selects and arranges the artifacts in her paintings, to her painting process and which lobes of her brain she uses.
The most informative passages are when Santiago discusses color and the temperature of color, that each color has a warm and cool version. She describes how she arranges her palette and how she uses those warm and cool colors to paint depth and shadow. Itcondensed painting workshop on a few pages.
Saar feels it is important to explain how Santiago found Giacobbe-Fritz gallery and talk about her accessibility as a Santa Fe artist. That she does not struggle. She works. Her gallery relationship is a partnership.
“I like to personalize things. This is my job. This is my purpose. I’m not a mysterious person who lives on a hilltop and comes into town wearing dark glasses. I don’t need that mystique,” Santiago says to Saar.
I’m not sure why this passage is necessary, and it seems trite to compare her to some caricature of the mysterious Santa Fe artist.
Otherwise, Conversations in Paint Language is a great way to discover the accomplished painting style of Roseta Santiago.
Conversations in Paint Language: The Art of Roseta Santiago, 144 pages, $75, published by Fresco Fine Art Publications and Giacobbe-Fritz Fine Art, Santa Fe, N.M.
firstname.lastname@example.org Leanne Goebel is a freelance writer specializing in the visual arts.