American (b. 1959)
Jorge Santos was born in 1959, and spent his childhood in Luanda, Angola on the coast of Africa. In 1975, Angola exploded in the violent political turmoil of decolonization forcing Santos' family to flee the country. At the formative age of 16, Santos found himself thrust into the equally turbulent and unknown culture of Lisbon, Portugal as that country slid into its own revolution. The national struggle paralleled Santos' own personal one and fueled his passion for drawing. At this early stage, pencil drawing, the most simple and direct form of expression, perfectly suited his complicated and dramatic images and expressed his unique vision.
Though of Portuguese descent, the following years brought the artist no sense of belonging, so in 1982, Santos moved to the United States. It was here that his work evolved beyond drawing. His illusory, dreamlike images that hint at bizarre secrets leapt from the drawing board to the full realization of paint and canvas.
In 1990, the self-taught Santos began adding color to his images and in this second period black and white figures stand out in stark contrast to their colored environments. Though the techniques combine acrylic and pencil on board, or oil and acrylic on canvas, a balance of opposites continued to be the focus of his work. With every painting, a stage of ambiguous illusion is created.
Suddenly, at the end of the millennium, Santos' paintings burst into full color showing a mature command of his artistry. They are still surreal allegorical works but now tempered with the irony and humor of an eccentric yet adventurous mind.
Figures are frequently fragmented, boxed within rooms, cardboard containers, or trompe l'oeil frames. An unusual icon will repeat itself with humorous frequency: a fish, a plane, a train... His characters seem alienated, odd, socially awkward and disconnected; disconnected also from their backgrounds by texture and technique. The overall impact of the work is disturbing and yet endearingly funny.
While one could spend hours psychoanalyzing Santos' imagery, perhaps the best path to understanding his work is that of a master set designer who creates an emotional landscape and populates it with characters to be animated in the imaginations of his viewers. Santos sets the stage and creates the cast, but each individual who sees the work writes his or her own internal play, making Santos' work a unique, almost interactive, experience.