Art form: Photography and encaustic painting.
Best known for: Painting on X-ray prints and hand colored black-and-white infrared photography.
Background: Gloria de los Santos was born and raised in Chicago, where she attended the School of the Art Institute and graduated from the University of Illinois in Communications Design with a minor in photography.
Major art influence: “My working class background is a major influence,” says the Kettle Falls artist.
“When I think of growing up in Chicago, I think of catching fireflies in the summertime, snow and Carl Sandburg’s poem, ‘Chicago,’ ” she says.
“Growing up in a city forever colors your soul,” she says. “It profoundly affects your world view.”
Although she chooses to live and create in a rural setting, de los Santos is still drawn to cities.
“I love the vibration and the manic energy,” she says. “I love Spokane and all the curious little shops and streets, the ever-changing views and, of course, the energy.”
Major creative influences have been photographers and professors at the University of Illinois including Esther Parada and Joe Jachna; and the Chicago surrealists Jim Nutt and Karl Wirsum.
When did you start making art? De los Santos has been making art as far back as she can remember.
“Once as a seventh-grader at St. Maurice Catholic School,” she recalls, “I failed to complete my ‘art’ homework. My teacher, a Roman Catholic nun, slapped me across the face while exclaiming: ‘Of all people, you should have finished it.’ ”
“As corny as it sounds,” de los Santos continues, “I considered what she said and came to believe in myself as an artist from that point on.”
In college she discovered photography.
“I loved photography from the moment I picked up a camera,” she says. “I loved capturing the image, loved working in the darkroom and was amazed by the magic of darkroom chemicals.”
After a bad car accident in 1985, de los Santos saw her X-rays and realized they were only large negatives. She went into the darkroom and produced contact prints of her X-rays and started to paint on the images with oils.
Process: “I love texture and feeling as opposed to the slick smoothness of a black-and-white photographic print,” says the artist. “Trying to go a bit deeper than superficial ‘decorative’ art is what I’m after – a mood, a feeling, a thought captured.”
With photography, she says, time, space and light can all be captured. “That’s a great feeling,” she says.
“With painting, there is only one original and that is still special in our modern world of throwaway goods, disposable everything and cheap mass-produced consumer products,” she adds.
What’s new? “I have been painting with encaustics for the last two years,” she says, “attempting to marry my photography with painting and intermixing the two media. Using collage and words have always been a factor in my art.”
What keeps you creating? Two words stay with de los Santos from her Chicago art-school days – obsession and passion.
“I have come to accept the belief that if you are not obsessed with something it’s tough to stick with it,” she says.
“Perseverance is the key for me, to persevere under any and all circumstances,” she says.
“The human spirit will prevail under stressful and dire circumstances, but you’ve got to be passionate about it, passionate about creating art and a little obsessive.”
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