BY KARA ORTIGA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSEPH PASCUAL
Though unintended, art is the lifeblood that runs in this family—from Soler Santos and his wife Mona to their children Luis, Carina, and Isabel.
It started with Soler’s father, the late Maestro Mauro “Malang” Santos, whose legacy is unwavering. His use of color and depictions of folk life has been considered his greatest contribution to Philippine modern art, and his work has made him one of the most celebrated artists of his time.
It wasn’t so surprising, then, that Soler would journey into art as well, working with various subjects and dabbling in figurative abstraction, eventually receiving a CCP Thirteen Artists Award along the way. Soler’s style deviates from his father’s, eschewing narrative and experimenting through time with texture and balance.
Soler (top) and Mona Santos share a studio at home with their son, Luis.
Meanwhile, Soler’s wife, Mona, who left her job at an advertising agency to become a full-time artist, has painted flowers in livid detail, capturing the chiaroscuro of light on delicate flora in various forms, from the beginning of her career.
But when Soler and Mona, both acclaimed artists in their own right, were entering parenthood, art was never something they thought of instilling in the household. “When we started a family, we were relatively young. We did not actually sit down and discuss how we wanted to raise our children. We just wanted them to grow up healthy and do well in school, and we tried to support them in whatever they wanted to do. We did not push them to get into art. Although like most kids, they would doodle, draw, and paint,” says Mona.
Which is why it seems quite fateful that today, every person in the Santos household is an artist, even when none of them had intended to be one—Luis, the eldest, took up business management, Carina considered writing, and Isabel took up European studies.
Isabel Santos with their dog, Noah
“When we put up West Gallery, Soler and I often had discussions about the works of the artists and the exhibits in the different galleries at the dinner table,” says Mona of the children’s upbringing. “So maybe, unconsciously, our conversations had an effect on them as well.”
Now, each child has grown into a fully discovered artist, with each honing a style that is completely their own, independent of one another and of their parents. Luis’ works are striking in their monochromatic hyperrealism; Carina’s works are more ethereal and fluid; while Isabel experiments with mixed mediums, playing with pop culture and humor.
Isabel thinks that their styles were discovered as each child was approaching the path to art at different points in their life. “I started out with art very young, then grew out of it because it was somehow forced on me that I should be good at it (laughs). Ina (short for Carina) started in school, while kuya found his time after graduation. Our art maybe is as different as our lives and selves,” shares Isabel. Luis adds, “Tingin ko may kanya kanya kasi kaming hilig tsaka experiences sa buhay, kaya mag iiba talaga yung art namin.”
“Tatay Malang would often tell us not to copy his style and to develop our own,” shares Mona. “The kids grew up hearing that from him. So maybe it was a no-brainer that they had to develop their own style. Also, their exposure to different art forms and materials helped them develop the type of art they wanted to pursue. We have a huge collection of art books, plus the Internet has made it possible for them to research and experiment. They grew up surrounded by art and art materials.”
Luis Santos and Carina Santos with their dogs, Benny and Noah
Inside the family’s home
But beyond the talent, it’s the kinship that makes this family so unique, the sincere love and mutual admiration that obviously fills their home. This close-knit family of five is frequently seen traveling with each other, or spotted attending events around the city, often arriving as a complete family with their two dogs, Noah and Benny, in tow.
According to Mona and Soler, having had a flexible work schedule and not clocking in at an office from nine-to-five when Luis, Carina, and Isabel were growing up meant that had been able to spend a lot of time together as a family. Which might explain why they are all so close today, especially now that they share a common passion in art that draws them even closer.
From left: Isabel Santos, Soler Santos, Mona Santos, and Luis Santos. Not pictured is Soler and Mona’s second child, Carina, who is matriculating at Central Saint Martins.
Inside the family’s living area
In the compound where they currently reside with Soler’s side of the family, the house beams with warmth and inspiration. Inside, there is always a work in progress continuously being thought upon, and a family that lives in harmony, communicating as relatives and sometimes as peers.
The dynamic works, because, Isabel says, “we like each other. Also because we’re always together. Ina is the first one to move away, even if it’s only temporary (Carina is currently studying at Central Saint Martins). There is a sense that we’ll never escape one another, so better just get along. I think I’m a big fan of all of them, to a point of bragging to people about how good they all are.”