Wish You Were Here: Artist Carina Santos takes us to places both foreign and familiar

In Satellites for Minor Planets, the artist continues her fixation on landscapes and geography as alternative portraits

by Jonty Cruz

For someone who proclaims she has many outlets for expression, it’s in her paintings where Carina Santos seems most endearing, or at the very least, where she is more open to a larger and deeper conversation—one that doesn’t necessarily need words. In her latest show at Blanc Gallery in Katipunan (one of her three shows this month), she uses landscapes both ingrained in her memory and cultivated from emotion to convey portraits of introspection.

 

Days before her show, Rogue sat down with the artist to talk about her initial hesitation with fine art, her belated connections with her late grandfather, Malang Santos, and how her multitude of talents culminates in her art.

 

The Center Of The World

 

ROGUE: Could you talk about your latest show at Blanc?

 

Carina Santos: ‘Yung fixation ko kasi now are mountains and environment. So ine-explore ko ‘yung landscape and geography as portraits. And what your surroundings tell you about your interior life.

 

Where did this fixation come from?

 

I think it was more of an exploration of the medium. Kasi nga I didn’t use to paint, I didn’t use to draw. Sa’kin kasi it’s less about copying [landscapes] and more intuition. ‘Yung ibang artists, ‘yung process nila is intentional and very deliberate. ‘Yung sa akin kasi, it’s more like by feel.

 

Is that the same with your collages?

 

‘Yung process ko naman before with collage, I would work on more than one at a time. It’s more like a rearrangement. Even with painting I do more than one at a time and I leave it for a while. Ganun din pala ‘yung lolo ko, I found out.

 

Hindi niya tinuro ‘yun sa ‘yo?

 

No. He didn’t teach us because the three of us [her siblings Luis and Isabel Santos, both artists], we all started making art late. I remember growing up we all said, “Anything but Fine Arts.” My brother, Luis, took Business Management in La Salle. Si Beng [Isabel] took European Studies, and then I always thought I would write but I ended up getting Graphic Design and Information Design.

 

Bakit never Fine Arts?

 

I don’t know. I guess we were surrounded by it so much na parang, “Ay, I don’t want this.” Feeling ko I wasn’t interested in it when I was younger.

 

In making art or in art in general?

 

In general. Like ‘yung mga aesthetics, meron, but ‘yung history or content, ‘yung mga interdisciplinary facets ng art, wala akong paki masyado. Like, I know it’s Van Gogh pero wala akong paki.

 

Going back to your lolo, Malang Santos, did he ever see any of your shows?

 

No. Wala talaga. That’s what makes me feel sad. He doesn’t know any of his grandchildren in our current state. Ang alam lang niya sa’kin ‘yung mahilig ako magbasa, na nagsusulat ako. Siya lang sa family, and I have cousins who read pero konti lang kami. Pero ‘yun ‘yung connection namin, I guess. It’s so weird kasi belatedly ko lang na na-realize parehas pala kami. Kasi he used to also work in publishing. So artist siya, graphic designer.

 

How do you approach art now and then? Did it change since your first show?

 

Hindi naman kasi I feel like I have a lot of outlets din e.

 

He doesn’t know any of his grandchildren in our current state. Ang alam lang niya sa’kin ‘yung mahilig ako magbasa, na nagsusulat ako. Siya lang sa family, and I have cousins who read pero konti lang kami. Pero ‘yun ‘yung connection namin, I guess. It’s so weird kasi belatedly ko lang na na-realize parehas pala kami.

 

So how does art differ from your other outlets?

 

Well, culmination din siya.

 

More than your writing?

 

Like I said I always thought I’d be a writer, so it’s what came easily to me. You know how people are so scared writing 3000 words? Parang mabilis lang lumalabas siya for me. It’s not necessarily gold, but madali lang. I think ‘yun ‘yung outlet ko kasi di nga ako sociable or madaldal so easier for me to communicate through writing. But at the same time I also think na meron akong hindi nasasabi through words. I don’t know if that’s the same with you because you’re a writer, but I feel like there are things you need to communicate where words aren’t enough.

 

Going off tangent a bit, how would you describe writing on Twitter naman? Like what kind of outlet is that for you?

 

For me, it’s really separate. Parang that’s vomit. Alam mo ‘yun? I think it’s bad in a sense that you don’t really process your thoughts enough on Twitter. When you write, you kind of edit it before you send it out. You research so you’re more informed. Even sa blog ‘di ba, you’re also measured. Pero sa Twitter, wala, andun na e, wala ‘yan.

 

But do you feel like, in some ways, that helps? As you said you’re able to vomit it out and dump everything there.

 

Oo, kasi naco-compartmentalize ko rin in a way. It doesn’t leach into your other stuff anymore.

 

So ‘yung process mo for writing and art is not the same.

 

Well I second-guess myself more when it comes to making art. Or I fiddle with it until it looks right.

 

Why are you more confident with writing?

 

For me, mas madali maging intentional with writing. If a phrase doesn’t fit, you take it out. Whereas art, it’s like constantly questioning “Is this right?” or “Does this look finished?” ‘Yung art para talaga siyang process na, “What is it I’m making? What does it have? What do I think it lacks?” Back and forth talaga. So I guess that’s why I work on different pieces at once. I have to leave one piece alone first since I’m not gonna finish it all at once.

 

Do you have editors for your art? Who do you get/ask for advice from?

Papa.

 

What does Soler say?

Honest naman siya. If it sucks, if panget, sasabihin niya, “Hindi ko naman sasabihin na maganda ‘yan kung hindi ‘yan maganda.”

 

Like Errant Homeless Ghosts

 

What about your mom? I don’t know if you think this observation is accurate, but your art is closer to your mom’s. Especially ‘yung last show niyo sa Finale.

 

Nagpaturo ako kay Mama before, tapos sabi nya, “Gawin mo lang.” ‘Di siya marunong magturo e, pero she will help you. She’ll give instructions na, “Layer mo muna” kunwari. ‘Yung basic na, “Lights muna gawin mo.” (Laughs)

 

I guess maybe the tone and the mood. I kind of understand what you mean. But I guess I don’t feel as close to her there, kasi ‘yung process namin super iba. Mas close ‘yung process ko kay Papa.

 

But isn’t that good na you really are both your father and mother’s daughter in that ‘yung process mo is more like your dad’s, pero ‘yung output is like your mom’s?

 

Kay Papa kasi, he’s constantly making, and gusto niya iba-iba siya. Marami siyang gusto i-try. I feel like ganun ako, with different mediums, or sa style or technique… Pero oo nga, hindi nga kami magkamukha ng art.

 

Can you sum up your art now? How has it changed for you, if it has at all?

 

Feeling ko, I don’t care as much about it, how people see it.

 

Parang sa akin okay lang. Kung gusto mo, thank you. It doesn’t affect me as much like before na parang, “Ah, would they think that this is too corny?” It’s not like I don’t care na I won’t listen to you. It’s more: okay lang if you don’t like it.

 

Mas madali maging intentional with writing. If a phrase doesn’t fit, you take it out. Whereas art, it’s like constantly questioning “Is this right?” or “Does this look finished? What is it I’m making? What does it have? What do I think it lacks?”

 

Did comments really affect you before?

 

Hindi naman, pero feeling ko lang I spent too much time thinking, “Ugh, corny siguro ‘to,” or baka they see me as this type of artist. It just affects your output.

 

When did this happen?

 

Parang I got too tired. Tapos I realized you really just have to pick where your energy goes. Kasi, ayun nga, I wanted to do so much pero pagod ka na kasi, isip ka nang isip. I feel like overthinking hinders you from doing stuff, from making stuff.

 

Which is how I see your latest art, especially with your latest work, na it comes more from feeling.

 

I think with reading or writing, I gravitate towards mga ganyang mood. I guess ‘yan ‘yung intention ko parati. You know how some artists, clear sa kanila yung output nila, then they make it. Sa’kin, I just don’t like it to be too literal, na maging masyadong on the nose. Parang ‘yun ‘yung isa kong na-realize. When you were asking about the difference between now and before, I think I always expected na dapat may deeper statement behind my work. Ngayon, naiisip ko I just make it. It’s fine. It doesn’t have to be so deep or so convoluted na, “Eto kasi ‘yung meaning.” Kasi ‘yung parents ko naman, they just make it. Bahala ka na magbasa nun, ‘di ba?

 

The Center Of The World

 

And this new show connects to your next one?

 

Yeah. ‘Yung sa West show ko kasi, Orbiting the Last Known Surroundings, para rin siyang fixation. Pero ‘yun nga, it doesn’t really come across [so much as portraits] since it’s a landscape. Para kang observer in a way, and considering landscapes in geography as portraits, in a way.

 

I’ve seen some of your new art, specifically your landscapes, and I feel like there’s a lightness to it that’s really comforting. There’s so much emotion but it doesn’t feel heavy.

 

Sa last show someone said na the kind of art I did feels lonely.

 

Lonely?

 

Maybe. But I don’t know.

 

Carina Santos’ show, Satellites for Minor Planets, is ongoing now until August 26 at Blanc Gallery, 145 Katipunan Avenue, Quezon City.