For Roland Santana, inspiration often starts with material and how to move it beyond the traditional confines of the canvas. Soundproofing foam, wire, plastic, towels and mesh are as much a medium as the canvas itself, adding multidimensional textures, shapes and layers to his contemporary and experimental pieces that are gestural, raw and oftentimes a joining of nature and psychedelics. Growing up in Virginia, the Bolivian and Guatemalan artist says he gathered a lot of inspiration for materials and non-traditional methods of painting while working with his father on construction sites. Memories like those have greatly influenced his approach to waste and alternative uses for objects.
“I’m starting to even use just scraps of canvas because I want to use everything. I want to make sure nothing is going to waste, so everything is being reused or even when I’m painting, I’ll use the last bits of paint to add texture to other works,” Santana says. “I’m very much interested in painting on surfaces that have a lot of resistance and seeing how it comes out and dries. Right now I’m playing with metallics and how light responds to it—it’s a bit like science. A lot of these are ephemeral works. It’s very contemporary in the sense that it’s as much about the experience of it and being in that moment and not being worried about how it’s going to last.”
This is also indicative in his many bodies of work and stylistic changes over the years since he graduated from Columbia College in Chicago. From figurative drawings in ink and oil pastels and crayons, to simple intuitive mark making, or repetitive shapes, to now large, and sometimes very tiny, tactile silicone and foam plaster pieces bubbling and dripping with color, Santana has a range that is hard to pigeonhole. One could think each body of work is from a different artist’s hand.
Visiting his live/work showroom and studio, “Gola,” in Bridgeport, is like stepping inside his laboratory. Two wall-sized canvas pieces in progress are backdropped between a wall of about twenty paintings, varying in scale and styles, and his work space nestled between them includes various pigment mixtures, sprays and bits of plaster and enamel. Santana is excited to show this new space, which he hopes will be a place to not only highlight his work, but also be a gathering point for experimentation and collaboration. He wants to bring in other artists like musicians and experimental artists to complement his work and create experiences together.
He hopes that his other project, “Rupture,” an online directory of BIPOC artists which includes their websites, medium and social media handles will become more than a database and become a place for artists to find one another and share resources. This summer, Santana and AMFM will curate a joint booth for Heaven Gallery’s BIPOC Artist Fair July 15-September 4, pulling artists from the “Rupture” database, and in May, he will have work featured in Arts of Life’s annual auction. (Ciera Mckissick)