Hey, guys, welcome to Proko. My name is Stan Prokopenko. I got Cesar Santos here. Thanks for comin’, man. Pleasure, man. Happy to talk art with you, man. So yesterday we went to a museum and we’ve talked about the art there. And I noticed how different we approach art. So you like… Thankfully.
Right, that’s good. This is a good thing because I’m very analytical. I’m, like, just like, this is how you do it. This is the craftsmanship behind it. And you’re very much into philosophy and thinking about stuff, right? Yeah, I’m analytical, too. I think I analyze a lot of stuff. But yeah, I keep it, kind of, like, loose and fun. I keep it on the Cuban side.
Loose and fun, is that how Cubans do it? Definitely. Okay. You come from the cold. I come from the heat. I come from the…? I grew up in San Diego. You’re made for the cold. I’m made for the… I guess I was born into the cold. But yeah, so I wanted to explore that side of it because I don’t usually talk about, you know, art philosophy and like, “Why do we do stuff?” So I wanted to explore that a little bit because I’m not comfortable with that, and you’re good at it. Well, it’s interesting because, for me, it’s just like a natural tendency. It’s not that… Yeah, exactly. I’m gonna go towards the philosophy aspect of life or just being like that. Yeah, you didn’t decide to do it. I never decided to be more a scientific approach to it.
My parents are both scientists, and so I kinda just think that way. And it’s great to meet you because you compensate that. Since we’re different, I am glad that I met someone that has a strong foundation with that type of attitude so that I can relate to that.
I mean, I see it and say, “Wow, that’s…” You know, because I liked that, too. I try to go towards that because art has to be structured at first. And if we start talking about philosophy too early in our careers, we can get lost and just spend our time just kind of talking about whatever and we don’t get anything concrete. So I’m glad that you are super concrete in that sense. Okay. Yeah, there’s definitely a balance. I mean, some people think you should start with the why, more of a philosophical approach, and then figure out how to do it. Because if you don’t know why you’re doing it, then how are you gonna figure out how to do it? But before we start getting into that, I wanted to talk about just your history, introduce people if they don’t know who you are. So you’re Cesar Santos. Yeah, well, I’m Cesar Santos.
I was born in Cuba, came to America when I was 12 years old. I kind of drew when I was a little kid. My uncle gave me some drawing exercises. But I really started in a serious way developing my art and my craft when I started attending a magnet school, high school for… Magnet school? Yeah, it’s a magnet school. What’s a magnet school? A magnet school is a school that attracts talent, so they do a very strong entrance exam. And if you pass it, you get to be there. It’s public, it’s free, but it’s selective. Is it focused on art? This one was focused… Okay.
Yeah, architecture, design, very artistic, but not singing or any other aspects. It’s just more visual arts. And then from there I got a full scholarship at the University of Florida, New World School of the Arts was part of that, and I did four years of college in the contemporary training, the contemporary art schools establishment. Which college? New World School of the Arts, which is part of the UF, University of Florida. Cool, okay. And then from there I dropped out. I was really close to graduating, and I decided to go to Florence to study the masters of the past and the classical and the craftsmanship of side of painting. Okay. Why did you decide to drop out before you finished? Because I applied to the Angel Academy and they accepted me in the… You thought that was better than spending another year or so? Yeah, Why wait? You know, I always go for whatever comes first. First come, for serve. So… First come, first serve. What is that? Listen, I was about to graduate in April and this is January.
So I get the opportunity to first go to the Angel Academy. Either I could have just avoided that opportunity and wait to graduate, and then the summer maybe comes. But it came first to me and then I go first to that opportunity that I saw to go to advance my career. Okay, cool. How long did you study there? At the Angel Academy, I spent a year and a half. I think I’m the fastest one graduating from there. I just worked full-time until I… Whats full-time? Full-time meaning painting during the day, and then at night getting the key from the school, going inside and working at night, too.
Pretty much 16 hours of work, 8 hours of sleep. Every day? Every day, eating, you know, rather quickly and… Eating rather quickly. Yeah. And going back to work. Wow. And weekends, too? Weekends, too. Yeah, I had no sense of days. There’s no calendar, so every day… No, not even the sun was guiding me because this was underground, so I didn’t even get to see the daylight. Interesting. Yeah. All right. So you’re there for a year and a half and then what’d you do after that? And then after a year and a half, I came back to my family and they said, “So now what? We put all this money and effort into your studies.” And I say, “Give me two months to set up a series of work and show it to galleries.” So after two months, I was already represented in one of the best galleries in Miami with no CV, nothing to show, just my art. Was your family in Miami or they’re still in Cuba? My family…
A lot of my family’s in Cuba, but my mom, my dad, and my sister, we all came together to Miami over there. Okay, so how did you get to that professional level so quickly? How did you set that up with the galleries? Well, I got out of school with the idea of the still life painting and a little bit of figure, but I was more used to painting still life. So I decided to do a series of still lives that reflected something different than when I was studying at the Angel Academy.
And I thought just the look of the school work plus a little bit of a twist from my side was enough to show some valuable work to the gallery and for the gallery to make money. Remember, galleries are always open for business, and if they see something that they can show to their client and make that connection between the client and the artist, they’re happy to do it. So I was able to provide that option. I said, “Listen, this is my work. Do you wanna see what I’m all about?”
And they say, “Let’s give you a chance,” and we started working. Did you go to a bunch of galleries or did you pick the one that you wanted and then you just went in and you got it? Yeah, I started from the one I wanted, which was really, really good at that time for me. They represented Cuban artists. So I felt kind of also connected in that sense.
And I went for it and I got into it. Yeah, didn’t apply to anyone, to any other gallery before that. Nice. I was lucky in that sense. Are you still with them? No, that was only three years. After three years I left because I was on exclusive contract. Since I was beginning, they kind of gave me some, you know… How do I say? They kind of controlled me more, but I think that was fair. I was, you know, willing to sacrifice that freedom for learning this whole thing. So I said, “Yeah, I’ll be with you.” But after three years you get offers from other places. Then you start wanting to experience the world in a broader sense. Yeah. Okay, so what age are you at that point when you got into that gallery?
Oh, my God, twenty… twenty… Woman (OS): Twenty four. I was 24? Twenty three, 24. Yeah. Okay, cool. So filling that gap, what happened since then? Oh, since then, nothing. It’s just been so many things. Nothing, everything. Yeah, I mean, nothing’s particularly. After that gallery, I started, just… For me, the gallery was, since I already was working with galleries and then I saw galleries attracted to me, I got rid of that worry, “How do I get a gallery?” So I was just developing my art. I thought that was most important because whatever got me to that first gallery was my quality of the work.
So I realized that I always have to be loyal to my development that I was, you know, just by intuition, trusting, even not graduating from college, and going to this atelier with, like, nobody cares about their diploma or anything. So I just go in go for like that, just go by intuition. And yeah, after that, I just kept developing my art and seeing for myself what will be the best form of expression that I can achieve with my character and my, you know, taste, and all that. Okay. And do you start experimenting with what your art represents and, like, the “why” at this point?
The “why” was developing at that time. It’s still developing, but my way I thought I found myself a little bit behind in the technology. So every time we had a graphic design or things that had to do with computers, I was kind of not that good. I realized that I was better with my hands and doing things, like, more from my guts type of thing. I was boxing and I was doing things that felt more connected to, you know, the basics. And I said, “Okay, so I wanna rescue classical art and bring it back to this generation, which is missing it more and more.” You know, they’re not spending the time to develop this craft. So if I do it, I will have an advantage when the future comes, and then the time comes up that people were missing that, then I’ll be one of the leading figures that rescue that and offer it to my people.
I didn’t rescue it in order to reproduce it, to mimic it, or to pay, you know, homage to anything in particular or any period. I just said, “What if I bring it and adapt it to my surroundings and offer it to my people?” And that was my “why.” So then all my art has developed around that. How do I offer good quality with good content, that is honest to me and that some people might find attractive, too? And some people don’t like it, but who cares about those? Yeah, I mean it gives you a unique style. Now it’s unique because nobody focuses on the classical stuff anymore, or it means, of course, some people do, but it’s very rare. Most people now, when they get into drawing, they go right into digital.
Yeah, and if they do, sometimes they are like… Since we’re rediscovering these techniques, we get caught up in developing the technique. So every time something comes up, like, is creative or crazy, I think that there’s a fear to touch on those things because we have had that for 100 years of just, like, the crazy aspect of the artists, and we’re going back into that discipline and that love for the craftsmanship. And I think I want to do that, but in a way break from it and show my point of view about it rather than just representing it as everybody would accept it.
Since then, you haven’t studied with anybody? Yeah, my technique started declining after leaving the school. Oh, really? Yeah, because I started working too much with the concept, and that’s the risk of working with ideas that you then lose a little bit. If you don’t really have a grasp on technique, it can go away from you quickly. And so I went back to teach in Sweden for a year to get me back into revising what I was… Wait, when did you do that? That was the year 2008, 2009, so a couple of years after graduating. Okay I saw that opportunity, I went there, and that got me back into that center of craftsmanship, revising… Crap-manship? CRAFTsmanship, sorry.
Craftsmanship. Okay, just getting back into that crap-manship. I think the best way to learn for me was to go back to the museums and study the masters. Because there are not many living artists that were impressive enough for me to say, “Okay, I’d rather study with you than copy painting in a museum.” And I already had the tools to kind of paint good enough to understand the paintings in the museum. So I decided to jump from that to the museums and go and learn from the real masters myself. Okay. But you told me yesterday you didn’t really actually paint at the museum. Can you talk about how you studied from the paintings of the museum? Yes, studying from paintings from the masters doesn’t mean that you painted from life for me. Like, for me, it’s either looking at books can work, reading about them, their biography… About how they work.
Or their habits or, you know, either technical stuff or even lifestyle. I appreciate people that are successful and made it through history or even… So I want to know about them. So learning in the museums means studying it. And the way I do it, since it’s so uncomfortable to go ask for permission and painting in the museum and the lighting in your campus is not the same… Right. All the lighting is on the walls on the paintings than in the middle of the room.
Yeah, you’re in the darkness trying to do a copy, you know. So I decided to get my sketchbook and work, do copies, and compare it really close to the painters and museum and write notes about the things that I saw that were missing or good or whatever. Wait, so you draw at the museum? Yeah, I draw at the museum, take a picture, or if they don’t let me take an image, I get a catalog with an image… Or online or something. Yeah, online, whatever. So I get that as a reference and I write notes that describes the difference between that printed image, reproduction, and the real painting. Oh, okay.
So mentally describing those things. It’s darker here, it’s not that high chroma here, less yellow. And then I will work on those on my sketchbook… At home? At home from memory by looking at the reference. And then I will go back to the museum when that dries and check it again and write some note. You bring your painting. You hold it up right next to the museum. Yeah, compare.
Take notes. Bring it back home, fix it? Yeah, yeah. Basically, the sketchbook becomes the bridge between the museum and my studio, it’s that link. So that’s why you have so many finished paintings in your sketchbook.
Because I was so surprised at what level of detail you and how much time you spent on each page in your sketchbook, and that’s just because that’s your portable thing. Because, yeah. Whenever I did studies, I never did it in my sketchbook. My sketchbook was a quick way of just, like, thought explosions. But… Which I do, too. I sometimes do sketches and quicker. But yeah, if ever I wanted to do a study, I would get just a separate piece of paper or a canvas… More formal. Yeah, more formal.
But I feel like your way is a little bit better because you don’t treat it as, like, a thing that you have to… Precious thing, right? Yeah, it’s not precious. You have to… You can play with it. Yeah. And it’s interesting because I got used to the sketchbooks if you see them, they’re kind of beat up, they fall, they… The pages are kind of not that… The first time that I gave it to someone for them to look at when I finished one, they were taking it with such, you know, care that I’m like… Of course. Yeah, so then I’m like, “Oh, my God, this is interesting how that is valuable to people.” So that hit another note in my career and say, “Wow, I didn’t notice that.” Because for me it was just experimenting and a practical thing. Well, because it’s delicate, and people can tell how much time you put into it. So it’s this thing that you could rip if you go too quickly that you spent days on.
Did you study from books at all? Or did you mostly go to museums and study from just looking at paintings? Or were there any instructional books that you felt like helped you a lot?
Well, when I was at the Angel Academy, I was introduced to Vanderpoel or Harold Speed, and those are the books that first guided me to technique. So I’ve read those books, plus a couple of more. Even the Charles Bargue is really useful for the beginning. But after a while I thought it was better to not go too much into theory. I had a lot of that in contemporary training. I wanted to go more practical and how to discover it. So I think the school, graduating from the school was enough information for me to keep advancing on my own. I just had to keep myself, pushing myself and, you know, organizing to that, following that, what I was looking for, which is mastering the technique. Okay. So the books were more when you were at school? Yeah.
And then outside of that you focus more on museums and looking at art. Yeah. And going to fairs and contemporary, you know, shows and more involved in the whole art world that I wanted to belong to. So that was when you were… Studying. Studying at the academy and you were just all in. What about today? Well, today’s the same principle of not wasting time on something that is not gonna help me achieve the goals that I set myself.
So I wake up in the morning and I have a goal for that day. I say, “I have to get to this stage in this painting or something.” And I just go towards that goal. And that makes me, you know, just keeps me busy in that sense. And if I have something else to do, you know, I spend time sending emails and doing other stuff. And now with my blog is on my YouTube channel, I’m having less days because I spend one day doing each blog, and it takes me a while. I used to have an extra day. Now, I have less of it. Yeah, I mean, it’s part of your career. It’s part of the marketing side of…because it’s a business. You’re running a business. I’m running a business, but it’s part of my “why.” It’s part of the “why” because…
Because the point, the reason that I wanted to learn all this craft and present it to my people is to share it. And YouTube is the best way because they can hear me talk about it, they can see me do it, you know, and see the paintings. So it’s an interaction between my art and the audience, and it’s not YouTube. I don’t consider those things individual. Those things are people looking at the work. So that’s why I think it’s part of my “why” because it’s part of the feedback. And actually, I believe the best way to become a great artist is to listen and be sensitive to the response from the people. Some artists are just closed and they just want to avoid the world. But it’s hard to evolve like that because in society, we each help each other out in evolving. If you’re just by yourself, you create crazy habits, and that’s not a good way to exist. But since we are, you know, beings that, you know, we need to be social, the same thing goes with painting. You create something, and if you see a negative feedback… I mean, in contemporary schools, they encourage you to do that. Don’t do…
If they say they don’t like it, do more of it because it’s against… Just go against everybody? Against the grain. How do you go against everybody? I mean, you… Well, you see the modern museums, they’re empty. Nobody goes to see… But they’re not going against everybody. They’re going with what museums are promoting. Yeah, but that’s a zero, zero point of the population. So they’re just doing what the schools train them to do to be presented in the museums or in that field of a world, like a small world, but the people are not being influenced by that. You know, you ask random people and they don’t know about Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Those are leaders… Koons? You can go downstairs to a parking lot and I’m sure you can ask people… Yeah, but the regular person also won’t know…
They will know Shakira. They will know… Well, yeah.
You see what I’m saying? I’m talking about visual artists. So you have… Are you talking about classically trained artists versus the people that are… artists that are doing just, like, modern stuff, abstracts, or…? I’m basically saying that if you compare the Metropolitan Museum with the MOMA, so the Met and the MOMA, there are more people spending time looking at the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum than they are looking at the paintings hanging in the MOMA because I’ve seen it. I go to a lot of museums, and in the contemporary museums they go to see the names, to be exotic next to the Picasso, van Gogh, but it’s more of an experience.
Well, everything is an experience, but when they go to the Metropolitan, you can see them really appreciating the piece of art, and that’s what I meant. This type of art that we’re doing is to connect to the broader audience, to influence culture, not only influence the wealthy that get to pay $2 million for a piece that nobody saw, nobody cares about. So that’s part of my “why”, and that’s why YouTube is a great channel for that because it allows me to go and see what people were really react…how they react to my art rather than two curators in a dark corner.
Yeah. When modern art and abstract art and all that stuff started happening, that was different. Now it’s not, it’s been around for like 100 years, but they’re still trying to stay away from what happened before that and sticking with what happened 100 years ago. Yeah, the wanna be the establishment and the new thing at the same time. They wanna be the rebels and the, you know…
You cannot be…you have to pick. So in a way we are the avant-gardes. You cannot be the avant-gardes and the establishment, and that’s what they’re playing. They’re telling their students, “Oh, be strange. But that is the norm, I’m sorry.” We are the strange ones that are saying no to the teachers of these established art schools and saying, “No, we need to learn how to do stuff to improve our culture, to take our, you know, our generation to a higher level of sensitivity visually, whatever.” So yeah, you’re doing a great job of doing that. You’re the one doing it. Yeah, well, I’m expressing it in myself but you’re kind of, yeah, helping also people… Teaching the craft. Yeah, you’re helping people achieve that, too, which I didn’t have when I was growing up.
What do you mean?
That I have to fight for my knowledge. I had to… Oh, yeah, you had to go somewhere else. Go somewhere else, spend time doing it, you know? Leave your life to go to Florence, right? That’s where you went?
Yeah, Florence. And sometimes people like you get people spoiled, because they’re in their room too comfortable, oh, rendering the form, and they don’t know… No, which is good, but they need to know that that’s not it, you know, that they need to know that that is an aspect of it and they need to really just spend time doing it and connecting it with themselves. I always tell people that the videos are like books. It’s not a replacement for actual schooling and mentorship. It’s like a book where you can get this information quickly, but you still have to train. Watching the videos is not gonna make you good.
Yeah, and sometimes when I do…when I give a workshop, once a year I do it just to change it up. And some people say, “I want you to paint because I learn more by looking.” And I’m like, “No, you paint and I’ll tell you what to fix.” And then, because I never…
The way I learned was by doing it, and my teachers… I never saw my teachers paint. If they tell me right now that actually everything is fake and they don’t know how to paint, I’ll believe it because I saw their paintings when done and telling me what to fix, but I never saw them do it. Did they ever go and paint on your painting? Not in my case, never.
They never got my pallet and fixed and painted anything. They would tell me, “Get that color and put it there and fix that line.” And I’ll have to kind of figure it out, and that’s the best way to learn it, I think, from the inside out, not from the outside in. Interesting. Is that because that’s the best way to get someone to actually learn it? Or, is it because they didn’t want their style to influence yours? I think because they had so many students, and it was a practical thing to just tell them how to fix it. And as a byproduct, everybody got to learn more, than if they were working and everybody would look…
How many students were in class?
When I was there, the whole school had like 15 students. It was small. Oh, so it’s not a lot. No, now it’s big. Now they’re like… I mean, the Florence Academy is massive, and the Angel Academy is just one location, but they still have, like, 60 or more students. What do you mean with 15 students, in the whole school? Mm-hmm. And how much in one class, like, a session? Just by level. So sometimes maybe you had a whole like figure class, like, let’s say 15. You arrange it around the model. So you have maybe four people working on the Bargues and then, you know, a couple of people more advanced working on the figure.
So the teacher had time to go and actually work on people’s stuff. Well, they had a rule, and the rule was one critique per day. In the morning, one, it was about Bargues, and one in the afternoon with the figure. That’s all you get. So if you go to the bathroom when it was your turn, you missed your critique. I mean, you could probably be like nice and say, “Oh, I’m sorry,” and then they will go back to you. But the idea is you have one chance, if you miss a day, you don’t get it. How long are the critiques? Long enough to tell you how behind you were in the project, you know.
So it would be like, okay, for this stage, because everything was so systematic that it was easy to focus on one aspect. So they will say, “For this stage, look for these values and that value and make sure you get that.” So they didn’t talk about anything beyond that. So if you ask them, “Oh, if I do a still life and I want to put red here, where…” They will say, “This is not the moment for that. You gotta focus on this.” You know, it was very systematic and direct. I liked that because it was such a contrast with my academy. Everybody, all the students were giving me critique back in college. All the students? Yeah, the students will be like, “Oh, I don’t know like that.”
Okay, so at Florence, the students wouldn’t critique each other at all? They would do it but not formally. They will probably do it. But in general, I saw everybody being very separate in terms of their work and the people. Like, when we will talk to each other will be different than fix that and fix this. I never experienced that. It was very formal, very scientific, respectful. Okay. It’s a little different than how, I guess, the ateliers in the United States are now…
Or maybe the time has changed and also things have changed. So you think maybe Angel Academy is like that now? Yeah, I went back to the Angel Academy and I saw more of a relaxed atmosphere than how I experienced it. People are joking with each other. They’re painting, they’re playing around. What?
Yeah, I know. I’m like, “Wow, that’s very different from when I was here.” It was more like, “This is your thing. Just do that. Don’t bother anybody else. Don’t talk to me.” Yeah, when I was studying at Watts, one of the main selling points of the classes was that the instructor goes to every single student and draws on their pad every class. It’s like you’re guaranteed for the teacher to come and fix your mistakes.
That’s so cool. But… So you think that is cool? So that’s good or is it bad?
No, no, I like that, but I didn’t learn like that. But I do that in my workshops. I think… Okay, so you do it when you teach, is you go and you show them? When I’m teaching, it has to be each in a week. I don’t know how that structure was, but if I’m giving a workshop in a week, I cannot just go one day and say, “You fix this. Good luck.” Because I don’t think they deserve that, you know.
They’re paying money, they want you to be more active with them. So for my workshops, I explain it first, they try it. If they don’t get it, I get their pallets with their own colors and make it happen in an area so they can see it working and then I go, “try to mimic that,” or, you know, “do that.” Okay, my friend Leon went to the St. Petersburg Academy, the Repin Academy, and he had this very similar experience to you, where the instructor wouldn’t draw or paint on your stuff.
They would just walk around and tell you what to do. So it’s interesting that the really classic academies that have been around for hundreds of years do it that way. Yeah, I mean they’re creating great work, so maybe there’s something to pay attention to in that sense. That’s what I’m trying to figure out, like what is it to that? Well, we said it before. I think you learn it from within. Because the moment someone fixes it for you, or you’re looking at someone doing it, you’re kind of making sense of it, but painting is an experience that has to come from inside.
You have to learn it from inside, not from the out… It doesn’t have to make sense. It has to make…like you have to make a drawing out of it. You know, you have to do it.
So the moment they tell you to do it and you try it, you actually experience that, and that is knowledge, that is wisdom. If someone does it and you saw it and be like, “Oh, I see it,” and then you do it in another area, it’s not the same as the same area that you had to solve a problem. You know, like it’s a very subtle difference, but it’s a major…
I think, for me, I think that is a big difference, because you’re actually doing it yourself. You make sense out of your own intuition. Like, if the instructor is good, it will teach you. Like, you will learn from a good instructor regardless of the method, because the method of the instructor is his own. So let’s say in the Repin Academy it’s very different from the Angel Academy, but maybe the instructors are good in both places, so they create good students. And maybe, Watts also does a different thing, but he’s a good instructor. He knows how to connect that learning point, and maybe he applies it in a way that they learn it. So I don’t think these are one or two…
Like, it’s not a fixed thing but it definitely has to go from inside. And if the teacher knows how to bring that out from the student, that’s an important part. Okay, yeah, cool. That was like question number 2 out 50. So when you were studying, did you start painting early on? Or did you draw for a long time before you started painting? Like, when did those… Okay, so this… I’m glad you’re asking this because this is important, and I think that’s the difference between becoming a student, an academic student, and becoming an artist, making a living and having a…
The medium makes that difference? Wait. The attitude, the attitude of how you treat the medium. So let’s say when I came into the Angel at the first level, very basic first level Bargue copy. As soon as I was starting to do that, I tried starting a painting at home using that. And when I told my friends and my teachers, they all laugh, “you’re not ready. You’re not ready.
What are you doing?
Wait.” And I’m like, “No.” So I have my sketchbook, my paintings outside of school.
So whatever I was applying in school, I wasapplying with different mediums and different stuff also. So you saw yesterday, my sketchbook had, like, different experiments with it. So I always did that from the beginning. And some students are waiting to become artists by the school. So they do all the process and they don’t enjoy it, they don’t live it outside of that. And I think that… So I was painting the whole time overlapping everything. Imagine, before starting my first course at the Angel Academy, I was already doing masterpieces in the other schools, like, with a theory and, you know, a concept behind it.
So I was kind of made believe that I was supposed to be advanced already. And even though I didn’t know how to sharpen a pencil when I entered the Angel Academy, it doesn’t matter because that was separate. That was a classroom. That was classwork, that was just study. And so I always integrated that with my art. There is no moment that I drew… I mean, I was drawing a lot but I was painting too, both at the same time. I was just applying what I learned. I gave what I learned more importance.
So the moment I try experimenting with a new knowledge, I apply that knowledge to whatever I was doing… To painting. …first. Yeah, I wasn’t breaking from it, I was respecting it. Yeah, so drawing was you learning the craft and then you took it home and you played, and experimented with… With medium, with paint, with oil, yeah. Okay, yeah. I had a similar experience. I think I was painting actually before I was drawing. That’s good.
But then once I got serious and started going to Atelier, I was very focused on drawing for a while, and then I went back to painting. So that big painting that you have of the kid learning how to… Chop wood. Yeah, chop wood.
Is that what you mean that you started doing that while you were drawing?
Well, that painting was done after I was… I had, you know… Already years of drawing. Yeah. I mean, when I was… I started painting when I was 12 with oil paint, with an easel and brushes and the stuff you’d get at an art store, not like… Kids.
Yeah, not like stuff you see at an elementary school where they give you stuff. I mean like real professional supplies at 12, and experimenting with how it actually feels and all that, before I knew anything. I mean the paintings are horrible, of course, but I was feeling it.
You already had that vision. Well not… no vision. Well, at least you felt like a painter. The how it feels with your hands, how does a brush feel, and when you mix paint. It’s like learning how to ride a bike when you’re a little kid versus when you’re like 40. You know, it’s a little easier to learn tactile things when you’re a little kid. You just go for it with no fear, no preconceptions. And you pick it up real quick.
You just figure out how to move physically better, I think, when you’re a kid. So I was playing around with that, but then learning the actual fundamentals later on with drawing and then bringing it back to painting. So you were doing similar things? Yeah, similar, similar, definitely. Cool. Yeah, I think you can start… The danger with starting too mechanical is that it might stay like that forever, you know, and then it’s hard to break it. So it’s good that you got to loosen up before, so you experienced that, and then you got formal after. I think that gain is a healthy one.
I’m glad I went through all these years of conceptual kind of art school, because it got me away from the fear of the traditional, you have to do it this way. So I’m just like having fun with technique, instead of being afraid of it, too intimidated by it.
Kind of off topic, but do you remember or do you know that we were both part of “21 Under 31”?
You mentioned that, I didn’t know that. That was cool because after you mentioned it, I looked at the magazine, and I saw it and I’m like, “That’s true. That’s interesting.” I think you got the first place, didn’t you? Yeah, I got first prize. You jerk! Oh, I was under 21. I was under… oh, you were under…? Oh, 31. Yeah. “21 Under 31.” So they chose 21 artists under the age of 31.
And I guess was it everyone in the United States or was it global? Do you remember?
I don’t remember, I thought I was global. I think they’re open for like whoever applied. Which magazine was that? “Southwest Art.” Southwest? Yeah. Nice. I think that was 2010 when we were in it, but it was the same month, the same issue. They do it once a year, though. That’s interesting. So we’re all connected like, from earlier, like, our careers. Actually, it’s a very small world, this world of realism. Yeah, that’s true. It sucks that you beat me. Ha ha! I think we got to start talking about philosophy. I promised in the beginning of the video. I didn’t study philosophy. I know you didn’t, but you think about it naturally. Okay.
So what do you think about? Teach me how to “philophosize.” “Philophosize?”
Yeah. No, you don’t care. I want to. What do you mean? You were talking about how you need to explore different thoughts, different types of thoughts than yourself, and hear other people, you know, other point of views talking. I don’t usually talk about that stuff but you do, so I want to.
So, like, what? Like, for what? I don’t know, man. Do you have a specific question?
Okay. So on Instagram, there’s this one guy. This happened like yesterday. He sent me… He’s probably watching right now too, he knows you as well. He sent me a video that he made on YouTube, talking about his work and stuff, and in that video, he said something about how he’s searching for the ultimate truth. And I’m like, “What does that mean? What is the ultimate truth?” Like, I’m just trying to make things that look good. Well, some people are confused, too.
And I just don’t understand how to even think that way. Yeah, well, it’s a bit… I understand what you mean. I’m also, like, I don’t believe in all these ghosty terms, like infinite truth, or soul of the spirit. No, no. I don’t think you have heard me talk about that. I’m very practical in everything I say. I just see it in a very lively manner.
Like, let’s say, for instance, when someone says, “I’m searching for the ultimate truth with my work.” Do they know what they mean? Because that could be broken it down into smaller elements, so you can understand what you’re looking for…
And that’s how I approach that. Like, okay, take me through this. What are you talking about? Too advanced for that. And then when I try to go down that route, they start talking about stuff that I don’t understand again. Like, “What?” Well, nobody actually that found any truth, first the title of the essay was, “Finding the Ultimate Truth,” I think that maybe comes after you find it by just reacting to life. Okay, so let’s say that guy… Let’s say we’re in a studio and we’re looking for the ultimate truth.
The ultimate truth, you know what it is? What?
Your limitations. And if you’re in your studio thinking that you can do something ultimate, but you haven’t lived it, you haven’t done it, you haven’t acquired, you can’t do it. So I believe that to find something for me, for instance, when I’m in my studio and as I would interpret that question, like, how do I find the ultimate truth, it’s pretty much being loyal to who you are.
So, for instance, I like to copy art, right?
So for me that’s the truth. I had that taste for the masterworks, so I abandoned my contemporary training and went to Florence. Got the techniques.
And what do I do then? I copy masters. I like to copy. What comes after that? Whoa, creativity. I like to put things together. So then I copy some stuff and I put it together, and then from that superficial aspect of it, then I say, “Well, there is some truth to that because that’s what got me here, that’s a fact, you know, that I’m actually… I travel this, maybe someone else studied ballet dancing.” So that’s my truth. And then to get it to the ultimate level is you’re never gonna get there until you die. So, for me, I say, “Okay, what is it to this syncretism?” Let’s say my syncretism is my ultimate truth in the sense that… Your syncretism? Syncretism, you know what it means?
You’re synchronizing with something. No, synchronizing is not the same as syncretism. What’s that? Syncretism is opposing schools of thought put together, kind of, by force, to create a new result. So in religion, Spanish, Catholic, got the Africans, pushed them together, rejected their religion, then the Africans adapted to call their gods with names and aspects from the Catholic Church.
So they develop a new Afro-Cuban religion comes out of that. So that is pretty much like what syncretism is, and there’s a lot of videos about syncretism. You can get super deep. So I found myself in the middle of contemporary training, classical training. I want to mix both because that’s who I am. And then I try to see how I can have fun with it, because it’s all about having fun, it’s only one life, and I had a great experience beforehand, so I wanna to keep that going. So then I just paint with quality, having fun, mixing it. So for me, that’s my ultimate truth, combined with my “why.” Why am I doing this? Well, first, because I need to make something that I’m proud of, and those are things that make me proud of and that gives me money to keep doing them.
So the money, when I receive it, is an endorsement, keep doing what you’re doing because we are appreciating it. We needed as a culture, or we needed as individuals, whatever. So then that promotes more of me looking for that ultimate truth. So when someone is like that, I need to break it down and say, “Okay, what are you looking for? Because you’re not gonna get it just by feeling it.” It’s not gonna come out. But I guess that’s better than saying, “I don’t even care to find the truth.” But the funny thing is that the truth is an individual point of view.
You know, nobody can say, like you said yesterday when we said, “Is there such a thing as cheating in painting? “And you said, “Well, you can only cheat yourself.” And I said, “Well, so if that’s the case, then we have nothing to do with it because everybody knows if they’re doing it to themselves or not.” So all we have to do is observe. And so you agree that there’s no cheating in art or you don’t? I agree that there is no cheating in art.
That’s a rule, because, okay, so what is cheating? It’s your own decision of what cheating is, right, your ultimate truth? No, no, no, no, no. No? It’s easy. If you’re in a classroom… I thought I had it down. If you’re in a classroom and there are a set of rules, and they say, “To pass the exam these are the rules. Don’t look next to you. This and that,” set by the leader. There’s a leader, the teacher. And then you break those rules to get a good result.
You cheated because you broke what everybody is supposed to be doing, right?
But in the art world, you are free. You are your own leader. Yeah, in a classroom there’s rules.. If you’re working with more than one person, there’s rules.
But yeah… But art is not… …in life you’re… But the people that claim that someone else has cheated, is because they want to call themselves leaders at that moment and say, “If you do that, I’m going to disqualify you from my life,” which you should welcome. You say, “Okay, peace.” So in that sense, that’s what I believe in in terms of art. Now, if you are a victim of not knowing what to do, and you say, “Okay, I’m gonna use a tracing paper and trace this thing,” and that got me a good result, yes, of course, that’s just not even cheating. That’s being mediocre because you’re not even controlling… You don’t know how to use your tools to draw, you know. But the moment you do it and it’s part of your process…
Let’s say you trace, let’s say those big heads that people create, like the hyper-realistic Chuck Close type of paintings, you know, they’re graded or they’re traced, and that’s part of the system, but it’s totally valuable for their own expression. You can like it or not but, yeah, in that sense. I wouldn’t divide that into, like, inferior or superior behavior.
Yeah, you wouldn’t but some people would. But I think that’s a mistake if they do it. Yeah, for them, not for me. For them, they’re putting limitations to themselves. Okay, so they’re cheating themselves by thinking other people are cheating? Exactly. See, now I’m getting into this philosophy. Damn! They’re cheating themselves by thinking that other people are cheating. Boom! Success. We can move on. I think I’ve accomplished philosophy. I like that. You pass the level 101. Nice. That was cool. Alright. Next topic.
Oh, yeah, yesterday. So you got a tattoo recently?
Yeah. And we were talking about how you… It’s not a tattoo, man. It’s a piece of art on my arm.
Oh, come on, man. It’s like saying that’s not a painting. It’s a tattoo, man. I know, I’m playing with you. I thought you were trying to get all philosophical on me again. Okay, so you got a tattoo and we were talking about how the way you appreciate a painting is different than the way you appreciate a tattoo. Mm-hmm. They’re like complete opposites. Yeah, they are. You’re painting on top of your skin with the needle. I mean someone is doing something on top of you with a needle. It’s more like an operation. It’s more like an alteration of your being. Yeah, but, well, right. So based on that, I would think you would approach them in the opposite way.
So I would think a tattoo would be something you would be much more judgmental about, and be like, “Before I get this thing on my being, I want to make sure it’s the perfect thing and I approve every part of it.” But you think of it the opposite way, where you just you see a $15 tattoo shop, “Cool, let’s go. Let’s do it.” If I feel like getting a tattoo in that moment for some reason, I do, yeah. Well, I mean, I think it’s valuable if you wanna be really picky about your tattoos.
Or, I mean, you have no tattoos, right?
I don’t. So, for you, it will be like a very special thing to get, if you ever get one. It’s permanent and it’s stuck on me. Yeah, but your fingers are permanent, they’re stuck on you. You have nothing… Yeah, but I’m not trying to… Change it. …change them intentionally. Yeah, but… so a tattoo is the same idea. Once you get it it’s part of you and you have nothing to care about it. It’s just there, you know. But the thing is, it depends on the background. I was raised in Cuba boxing, then a lot of my background comes from, you know, being kind of not in a very sophisticated level of being.
So I’m surrounded by people with tattoos, sometimes, or at least seeing them. And I always thought that that was an attractive thing. I always like people with tattoo. But yeah, but for me, a tattoo is more about the experience. So every time I travel to a country and if that opportunity comes, and, you know, I get a memory from…I get a tattoo, whatever. Sometimes it’s meaningful, sometimes it’s just superficial. They’re all superficial because they’re all outside to show, so… They’re gonna represent something. Yeah, it represents…
Yeah, but at the end it represents that you were the tattoo… person with tattoos, you know, and I never wanted to… Oh, is that… really? No, I never wanted to be like the guy with it… “Oh, over there the guy with tattoos.” Because tattoos can be so overwhelming that it can cover who you are as a person. But for me, I mean. me and my wife, we love the idea of tattoos and sometimes we get them. I mean I’m not planning to go to record. It’s like playful here and there as long as it’s safe. Right, but then the way you look at art is you look at it more of a sophisticated thing, like, you know. Because that’s forever. Paintings are forever. Tattoos…
Oh, so your body is not forever? Is that the way you look at it? Yeah, yeah, yeah. A tattoo is something that is temporary, and people say, “Oh, tattoos are forever.” I’m like, “No, paintings are forever, tattoos are not.” Wow. That’s deep, dude. Well, because… I could just burn this if I want, it’s gone forever. Yeah, but you can burn anything. As far as I’m concerned, what’s on my body is forever within my own world. You’re too important. Yeah, see. For me I’m just the messenger.
You say, “Well, if you’re so meticulous when you paint, why are you not the same, you know, have the same standards if you want to get a tattoo?”
But I don’t connect them the same. I think that tattoos are nothing to do with art, nothing to do with drawing, except the one I got here. The last one I got that you mentioned, that requires a lot of talent and a lot of practice, and that’s different in that sense because of the look of it, but the experience is the same. Okay, I think you just answered it.
So you don’t think of a tattoo as a drawing, as a…? Yeah, no, I just see it as a stain on your body. It’s more like a birthmark that you wanted to have but you didn’t have, so you just put it on. Okay, that answers my question. Cool. Thanks. All right, so I think we should Rap It Up. We’re not actually “rapping” it up. We’re finishing it up. With a W. Yeah, so I like to wrap it up with a speed round instead of a rap.
Some just really quick answers, right?
All right, let’s hit it. Okay, favorite artist? Nobody. Not even me? Okay, I’m gonna make up one with that. Okay, favorite artist you’ve studied? Bouguereau. Favorite subject to draw or paint? Portraits. Favorite book? “The Law of Success” written in 1925 by Napoleon Hill. Is there painting that you’ve done that’s particularly memorable or important? Yes, the one I’m doing next week. You haven’t done it.
The question is, is there a painting you’ve done?
I’ve done it in my mind. Oh, wow. There you go with your philosophy. No, but it’s true. I’m never happy with… My last paintings, my past paintings, I really don’t like them as much as the one I’m gonna do tomorrow. Okay. So, okay.
So let’s say out of all the paintings you’ve sold, and you don’t have any more, is there one you wish you could get back?
No. No? What do you mean? No. I wish actually the ones that I have back, I would like to sell. Well, no, keep the money but you just wanna bring it, you just wanna have it? Um, no. There’s no painting that you have? No, because I spent so much time doing the painting that after I’m finished, I’m done, man. They can go their own way. What medium do you want to learn? Medium? Medium. Digital, sculpting… Oil painting. You’ve already learned that. Not as much as I would like to learn it.
One that you have never even tried before. Tattooing. Ooh. Okay, you’ve never tattooed anybody?
I did. But you wanna learn, you wanna get good? Yeah, yeah, but I just did it like for the first time. Oh, cool. But I don’t want to. Did you do that on a person for your first time? Yeah. Oh, man. He asked me to do it. That’s how you just go right in… Do you have a picture of it? He’s of a friend of mine. Oh, I don’t have a picture of it for you to see it. What was it off? It was a cast painting, one of my cast in my sketchbooks. Yeah, plane. It’s probably…
Planes. Yeah, I know, different grades. You said that you weren’t comfortable with planes and form, and now you’re all like… I’m not that comfortable…
Did you tell them you’re not comfortable with forms before you tattooed it on someone?
No, but that’s something I already drew. Like I had a drawing in my sketchbook, and they asked me to do it. Okay, gotcha. I’m saying tattoo just to play around, but I haven’t thought of any other medium other than oil painting. But yeah, I don’t know. You can say like piano. Piano, wow. You could go “philophosizing” it. I thought you were saying something like drawing. Hey, man, it’s just a question. Medium, okay, so medium can… You limited yourself with that question. I know. I didn’t know piano was a medium. It’s an art form. Music is an art form, the piano is a medium.
No, I would love to, yeah… So piano, you’re just taking my answer. I play a little piano, but you tell me, like, if I tried it, it doesn’t count anymore. I was just trying to get an answer out of you. All right, cool. That was the end of the speed round. What are you working on now? You see I also like this for the speed. Now I’m like this… All right, now you’re relaxing.
All right, so what are you working on now? What can people expect to see in the future?
So in April I’m gonna have a solo show in Los Angeles, and I will be at the Maxwell Alexander Gallery. And I’m preparing a nice show for that, and it’s about syncretism, developing that idea. Wow. Where do you see your art going the next 10 years? Ten years? Ten years, man. Wow, man.
I have no idea. I honestly, I don’t think about that. I think about like just my next project, small short terms. Because every time I try to do that, I’m always like off, you know. You don’t actually get… Yeah, yeah. Nobody can do the same… Yeah, you just go like that. Life is, like, you keep following, and it keeps changing. But one thing about the syncretism thing is that I say it because I kind of like to play around with the -ism, that is no more part of the art scene, like there is just, like, no more -isms anywhere. So I did it as little bit of a tongue-in-cheek kind of play with it, but…
Oh, that’s what syncretism… I’ve seen you post stuff, where it’s like abstract art mixed with like really classical art, and it’s in the same painting. Yeah, because things abstract art develop against classical painting. Yeah, I’ve seen those.
I’m recording of what I’m doing in, yeah, our days, like put them together. Okay, so you just recently started exploring that?
No. No? All my life. Awesome. Well, that’s it. That’s all the questions I got. Thank you so much. Pleasure, man. Tell them where they could find you and your work. Again, I’m Cesar Santos and you can find me on YouTube. Cesar Santos is my channel, Instagram, Cesar Santos again, and my website is santoceser.com Check it out. Cool. Thanks, guys. Thanks for watching. A pleasure. Watching me learn how to “philophosize.” I’m not a philosopher, peace. Neither am I. All right, see you, guys. Should I “rap” this video up? I’m here with Proko talking about art. He might look a little stiff but he’s actually really smart. I don’t know, whatever came up. Is that a compliment?