Profile - Morgan Santander

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Some of the major works of Savannah's own artistic luminary, Morgan Santander, were featured at two new exhibitions in San Antonio, Texas. Both exhibitions, at the Central Library Gallery and Galleria David Alfaro Siqueiros, presented by the Instituto de Mexico, are filled with works the professor of arts at SCAD created here in Savannah.

The exhibits, Sculpture Gardens and Other Recent Paintings, are referred to as "The Volcano Within" by Enrique Cortazar, Poet and Director of the Instituto.

"One essential characteristic of visual art is that it expresses something beyond color and beyond form. To be able to suggest and transmit that which lies in the depths of the heart is everything. The good painter knows how to ease the essence out of the soul and then give it physical form on canvas," says Cortazar.

"To speak without having to explain. To express without anecdote. This is the only way for a refined and playful artist to communicate on canvas the profoundly indefinable quality of reality."

Prior to the exhibits, I had stepped into this dazzling world of fantasy at Santander's beautiful Victorian home on West 36th Street. To the right, occupying the West wall of the main parlor, the Sculpture Garden beckons.

At first glance, I wanted to stroll right through the mysterious sculptures into the depths of the garden. The painting, two large canvasas totalling eight by thirteen feet, represents a dramatic panoply of the artist's vision.

"In art, in painting," says Santander, "there is an intimacy that exists nowhere else. It is just you, alone with the canvas. And then, it is the viewer, looking at your painting.

"Well, perhaps, there is the same thing with a novelist, you're alone when you're writing; the reader is alone when he's reading...."










Santander, a tall, soft-spoke man of 35, is a Professor of Art at SCAD, a painter, and, perhaps a redundancy, a dreamer. The shapes and forms of his work are certainly not representational, they border on the abstract, and yet they have the shimmering lushness of the Impressionist and the other-worldliness, the mysticism, of the Surrealists.

If I were forced to put a name to this work, I think it could only be called Santanderism.

Walking through the other rooms of his home, all filled with paintings, mostly large, a few small, all unique, he explains part of the blend of himself and his work which shares with some Latin art touches of the primitive, and yet has elements of the spare elegance associated with the English.

"My father was Mexican," he says, "And my mother English. I grew up in Mexico and in Arizona, going to school in both places, learning both languages, becoming bi-cultural."

From childhood, he seemed destined for the artistic life, although he was 17 years old before he definitively decided to become a painter. That destiny was no doubt the result of both environment and genes.

"My maternal grandmother," he says, is a painter. She's British, and she went to the Boston Museum School, so I always knew it was a career possibility." That paves the path for a young person. Many artists, Santander points out, grow up somehow painting and dreaming of being painters, and yet, they have never known a painter, never really seen an example of someone who actually made a career of their art.

He has an aunt who is an artist, too, and his father was a writer. Philippe Santander was "a playwright, a political dramatist, he is well known in Latin America. One of his books has been translated into English for the American audience. "

Santander's mother is a writer, and a political activist. "She fought with the Sandanistas in Nicaragua, she has worked for many causes," says Santander.

Art is a carryover of these passions, he feels. "Art is one of the few venues where very serious issues can be dealt with without people feeling threatened, you know. Political issues, and issues of gender, social issues, and taboos.... Right now, I am interested in exploring how the imagination functions, what it means to be an individual and what it means to have lived a human life.

"I think where I help my students the most, is to help them find and develop that particular niche, or passion of their own, to develop their own voice and style...."

Santander is not always at work before the easel or the classroom. He plays the guitar ("I'm not very good, but I enjoy it a lot!"), plays tennis, and enjoys the beach and traveling. And he always keeps an eye open for that Special Woman he has yet to find. "Within a few years, I'd like to be married and start a family," he says.

He would also like to help other artists, perhaps to start a cooperative where many artists could show their work without having to pay huge rents and high commissions to the galleries. "I think artists need to help create opportunities for other artists. I often hear artists complain that they can't get space. Well, I say, make your own space."







Photos by J. Star


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