Hidden Figures: The Eerie Artwork of Antonio Santin
When you look at a work of art by the Spanish contemporary artist Antonio Santin, you may think that you are looking at an intricate hand-woven rug. However, Santin is not a rug-maker but a painter. For each of his oil paintings of rugs, he uses thousands of brushstrokes to accurately recreate every detail of the original’s fabric and patterns. It is not the detailed painting of the rugs themselves that make Santin’s paintings so arresting yet so unsettling, though. It is what appears to lie beneath.
Santin uses a method similar to the chiaroscuro technique popular in the 16th and 17th centuries, a contrast of light and dark shading to create the illusion of three dimensions. In Santin’s paintings, the result is an image of a rug that appears to have folds and bulges in it. Upon further observation, it appears that there are figures underneath the rugs that seem to be human bodies.
The hyperreal 3-D effect causes the image of the rug to appear to bulge outward from the canvas.
Background of Artist Antonio Santin
Born in Madrid in 1978, Santin grew up in Spain, where he attended the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He received his Degree of Fine Arts in 2005. Initially, he trained as a sculptor. The city of Madrid commissioned a sculpture from him in 2003, before he completed his degree, which still stands to this day as a public installation. International exhibitions include the Centre national des arts plastiques, Paris. Santin eventually moved to New York, where he lives and works to this day. He draws partially on his experience with sculpture in creating his mysterious rug paintings.
Antonio Santin’s Artistic Inspiration
Santin was working on still-life paintings prior to beginning his rug art series. He grew frustrated with the cluttered appearance of the resulting pictures, wanting to get rid of the figures. He took direct inspiration from a painting called “Ophelia” by a 19th-century British painter. The painting depicts the tragic ingénue of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” who goes mad with grief following the death of her father and commits suicide by drowning herself.
In the painting, Ophelia is almost entirely submerged, with only her hands, head, and upper chest emerging from the water. That painting, says Santin, led him to believe that a body that you can see is often less intriguing than one that is not fully shown.
With his rug paintings, Antonio takes the next logical step and obscures the figure completely. Except for the shape bulging upwards from underneath the carpet. Another way that Santin describes his concept for the rug paintings is bringing the background, i.e., the rug, into the foreground and obscuring the figure behind the opacity of the patterned fabric.
Technique of Antonio Santin
Santin’s paintings start as photographs of real rugs. The carpets he uses include rectangular pieces in Persian rug patterns and round tapestries featuring mandala-like medallion designs. Some are especially vibrant colorful rugs featuring a number of different colors, while others are more sedate pieces containing only one or two colors.
Each artwork consists of oil and acrylic applied to canvas. To mimic the texture of the rug’s weave, Santin uses thousands of thick paint strokes for each painting applied in a rudimentary yet elaborate way. Spreading the colors around becomes messy, and Santin uses tons of latex gloves during the process.
Each painting takes approximately two months to finish, and Santin typically works on several at the same time. Santin reports a melancholic sense of detachment from his work once the painting is completed. When asked, he replies that the work in progress is the one he is most proud of.
Interpretation Of Santin’s Work
“Trompe l’oeil” is a French phrase that means “fools the eye.” The phrase is applied to paintings like Santin’s that give the illusion of three dimensions on a flat surface. Santin achieves this effect with a combination of contrasting dark and light strokes to create the illusion of light and shadows reflecting off the folds and creases.
Santin’s style has been compared to Spanish Tenebrism, a subcategory of chiaroscuro. However, while Spanish Tenebrism may have been an influence on Santin, the comparison seems less than apt. Tenebrism is a technique of painting an illuminated subject against a completely black background to cast the subject into dramatic relief. Part of the impact of Santin’s work is that the contrast is more subtle, making the bulging rugs all the more unsettling for their mundane presentation.
Santin remains coy when questioned whether the bodies underneath the rugs are alive or dead, responding that it is up to the individual viewer to decide. The details that give each piece its hyper-realism invite some viewers to draw back the rug to see what it is hiding beneath its folds. Others, however, would prefer not to pull back the rugs even if it were possible to do so, fearing the grotesquerie that they might find.
It could be said that the hyperrealism of Santin’s rug paintings are an example of art imitating life. However, rugs themselves are a work of art. If you are looking for a real rug to grace either the wall or floor of your home as a work of art, explore the modern, vintage, and antique rugs available in the Nazmiyal Collection.
This art blog about artist Antonio Santin 3D rug paintings was published by Nazmiyal Antique Rugs.