From a distance, Angela Santana’s paintings look like blurred digital photographs. But up close, they reveal themselves as expansive, virtuosic oil paintings of women posed seductively. The blur and the pose are equally the point: Santana’s work questions the way women’s bodies are still consumed and objectified in mainstream digital culture. Born in Zurich, Switzerland, the artist studied graphic design at the F+F School of Art & Design, before working as a designer for brands and entertainers in cities across Europe. After she relocated to New York City, she returned to oil painting, the most classical of mediums. She began poring over historical representations of women, wondering how she could subvert the age-old practice of depicting women as objects. The strategy she devised is both novel and ancient. She composes each painting digitally, transforming found digital photographs into something of a tapestry, made up of layers upon layers of manipulations. She then paints large on canvas, turning fleeting digital objects into far more complex and permanent subjects.
How did this series start? Where did the idea come from?
From an early age I was exploring the female body, its shape and symbolism in art. Being an artist is being an observer. Analyzing the role of women depicted throughout history, predominantly from a male perspective, was another eye opener to me. Translating this into our digital age with its mass of objectified images, I felt that there was a point to be made, and that’s where the concept stems from. Looking at our behavior online, how we consume imagery at an accelerated speed, and how this mass of objectified content has helped shape and distort the perception of women in our collective consciousness.
The technique came about because I’m really interested in the idea of synergy and was experimenting a lot with different techniques and ways to combine digital and manual painting, before I felt like I had found a great way to balance both. My vision was to absorb the characteristics of the manual and digital brushstroke, whilst still retaining all the anomalies.
Speaking of technique, is your use of oil a reaction or statement about the speed of the Internet and fast consumption?
It is a direct reaction to the digital disposability and the exuberant mass of images online. I love the strength and permanence of the medium of oil painting because it is the perfect antagonist to the fleeting digital thumbnail.
Is the large scale also important to the series?
Playing with scale allows me to enhance the notion of a new narrative, as the paintings are really large and bold, and created to be seen.
What is that new narrative? And how does your work disrupt the way women are viewed?
I’m commenting on the male-dominated industry and their depiction of women throughout history. Shifting [the woman from the] object to the subject highlights that the images of women are often passive and pleasing; created from the male gaze. I’d like to re-engage the viewer to a new narrative, a female gaze, where women are powerful rather than pleasing. I really want my work to have an uplifting and empowering energy. The titles further enhance this concept: For example, “Alpha,” “Myriad Mother,” “Beauty is a Myth,” or “It’s Grand, It’s A Powerplay,” to name just a few.
Why is it important for you to include all body shapes and skin tones in your work?
This series allows me to question the narrow beauty ideal we are fed daily. Isn’t it absurd that we’re still looking at so much of the same in the gigantic realms of the fashion, beauty, erotic and advertising industries? I am celebrating the female form in all its diversity.
What’s next for you?
There’s a new collaboration on the horizon. Sculptures and experimental print techniques are both in my mind a little further down the line. Beyond that, I’m always working on new paintings. It’s important to me that I give myself a task at all times, to surprise and push myself and be playful. With this on-going series, I always feel like there’s more to discover and I never stop learning. The constant oscillation between figure and abstraction is giving me so much freedom that I want to keep exploring it.