On a quiet narrow street in Santa Fe, just off the busy highway to Taos, Roseta Santiago lives in an old car repair shop, re-created into a beautiful home, private with its garden ensconced between her studio (former garage) and the house (former office to the garage). Everything is in neat order in her living space appearing as if it came out of a designer’s dream. Inside the studio, there are conglomerations of objects; everywhere you look, your eye lands on something that holds you there for a time before traveling on to the next object. On a long wall, a span of black canvas clings to the wall’s surface. “This is my idea wall,” Santiago explains.
There are cuts in the canvas. One the shape of a thick cross some twenty inches high leaves a gaping hole. Chalk-like drawings of other crosses are the beginnings of their journey from the mind of an artist to their real-life, a drama played out step by step. Created in mixed media with layers of printing and hand painting to nails, the crosses are something new in Santiago’s oeuvre, they are her personal comments about the human condition.
Explaining the titles of paintings scrawled on the black idea wall, she says, “Sometimes I get the title of a painting before I have even thought of what the painting will be. I can’t explain why that might come first.”
These ideas on her wall are but a microscopic few that dwell in this laboratory of curiosity that Santiago occupies. Around the perimeter of the 1200 square foot studio are inspirations from every continent. Native American artifacts are many, living alongside Oriental and African objects. On the lower shelf of a heavy cart are rolls and folds of rugs, “mainly Indian textiles, all vintage, with a railroad blanket or two from 1800’s in there, “ Santiago explains, “everything I have is about a story.”
Her objects pique Santiago’s curiosity allowing a magic to begin. Her studio is her laboratory, and she is stimulated by curiosity, fueled by creativity. “All these piles are possibilities,” she says. “When I am not painting, I spend time with these “things” which are my inspiration. I will analyze something like this ghost vest. I’ll read about it, learning that people thought it was a bulletproof child’s vest. Once something lands [in my mind] I can’t wait to paint it. Inspiration comes from stories objects have to tell,” she continues, walking to a different shelf. “Like this Buddhist’s monk’s hat — this blew me away! I know someone wore this walking along a path in China a long time ago. And this African rattle, it was most likely used in ceremony.”
Curiosity is something Santiago seems to have lived with all her life. “In my yearbook from hi school my comment was something ridiculous like ‘I always want to understand why?’ — When I don’t quite understand, I am fascinated,” she says. This curiosity has spurred Santiago to paint not only still lifes, but also portraits, figurative work and landscapes, sometimes landscapes with figures. Nothing seems to be beyond her reach of seeking. Her son, Chris Holt, spoke of his mother in these words, “As an artist, teacher and parent, Roseta approaches her world with unmatched dedication, focus and curiosity, fueled for the most part by the sheer joy of discovery.”
This joy of discovery is to Santiago, a type of magic that happens in her studio, “There’s a special point in space where things become real, where something is born — it’s a type of chemistry. This is the process of creating. I’m not into recording just a picture of something. When I am with my paints and creating, its like playing with magic; I am actually on a plateau. Whatever the ingredients are when you are on that plateau it’s all about the experience of creating and it feels like magic. And when I am through, I hope I have left room for the viewer to explore the painting and to experience a magic with their own curiosity.”
Whether it is a horsehair valise or a bonnet with lace from Paris, or a powder horn inscribed with a ship from Amsterdam, Santiago visits the magic that turns the collective objects into a story, then paints it, making us all believers.
“Life is a miracle and I love to pay attention to it — it is not forever,” Santiago says.
Western Art & Architecture
Written by: Shari Morrison
In the Studio: Roseta Santiago