An Intimate Conversation with Roseta Santiago

By Rosemary Carstens

October 6th, 2011
I recently had the marvelous privilege of interviewing painter ROSETA SANTIAGO in her Santa Fe home and studio. Her surroundings reflect her active curiosity and engagement with life, her love of history, of ancient artifacts, and people of all cultures. She is presently represented by Blue Rain Gallery and some of her work can be seen on their website at where she is one of their best-selling artists.

Q – To quote poet Mark Doty, “love is a gateway to the world, not an escape from it.” I find this true about art also, certainly of your paintings—they are a gateway into the heart of your subjects, whether an object or a figure. How do you achieve that sense of intimacy? 
In my never-ending curiosity I had to research Mark Doty first! Examination is the way I look at things and people. I imagine the subject’s life or circumstance as I paint. My comments are in paint, light, and composition. I try hard to isolate what I am seeing or hearing. All that we are as artists is what goes into the painting. It is the emotional component that I think makes my paintings interesting.

Q – Your mastery of chiaroscuro is especially profound. What started you on that path and what would you say are the characteristics that made it so appealing? 
While sitting and watching the light change on white marble statues on my fist trip to the Louvre in 1969, I was awestruck by how the light and shadows illuminated their beauty. I promised myself I would attempt to portray that light in my paintings someday. The subjects emerging from the shadows, the drama, and the “discovery” I was experiencing were all ingredients I hoped to capture with paint.

The-Trappers-DaughterQ – There is richness and vibrancy about your use of color, which is, I think, part of what draws people to your work. In your figurative work, the faces glow in a distinctive way. How do you choose who you want to represent? 
I always know when I see a face whether I want to paint it or not. It is mostly the translucency of the face and the character showing through. I am inspired by “interesting” rather than just classic perfection.

Q – Most of your paintings feature a center-stage focal point, yet the backgrounds are important also and can add or distract from an artwork’s effectiveness. Are there some specific effects or goals you have in mind as you work through the entire composition? 
Sometimes an active background will work as a tapestry for a quiet subject in the foreground. I tend to enjoy a complex background if there are designs and objects the viewer can discover secondarily. These things expand the story of the main character. They are often clues to what the painting is about.

Q – There is an Asian sensibility about your work, in its simplicity and the serenity your paintings project. Where does this come from? 
I am not painting for shock value or sensationalism. A painting of mine might have the same lasting effect, but it will be a quiet understanding. I want my paintings to have one simple message that lasts a lifetime.

Q – It seems that music is an important part of your life. Are there a half-dozen artists that you find yourself playing again and again as you work? How do they influence your mood at the time? 
When I approach the easel, each day is different. I select music that feels right for a 10 hour session. In most cases those selections take me through a day’s work. One day the studio is filled with Andres Segovia’s Pictures at an Exhibition and perhaps Leonard Cohen. Another, I listen to Lisa Gerard, a masterful composer whose work includes musical scores for movies such as Gladiator. These musicians are translating feelings into music. I am interpreting with paint. It is a perfect pairing for me. Lately, Anour Braehem makes me feel like I am in a mysterious studio in Europe. Music transports me. It is like a musician holding my heart while I paint. It is inspiring. There is a secret language that creative people speak.

Q – Your paintings hint at history, culture, a story emerging from the pages of time. That’s a strong part of their fascination. Is this intentional on your part? 
I find that treasures are hidden everywhere. Some of the most precious are in museums; some simple but missed. I want to bring these into the light, share my fascination and the beauty I see. I am inspired by this life and all that is in it. I hope to inspire someone else with my work. I have my first bronze in the Shidoni oundry. It is entitled Ancestral Dreams. It is a contemplative face in a dreamtime state. When we wonder where some of the images come from in our dreams, I believe they are inherited.

THANK YOU, Roseta, for sharing your thoughts and your beautiful work with us