BY FIEL ESTRELLA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOSEPH PASCUAL

Armed with a collection of French erotic comics and DC comics that she’d picked up in 2016 during residencies in New York and a small village in the north of France called Marnay-sur-Seine, Isabel Santos began cutting up some of the pages to incorporate into her art.

“Sometimes I just draw them,” she clarifies. The youngest in a brood of artists, she ventured into the family business in part because it’s in her blood, but her art is very much all her own. And for someone whose work often coincides with comics, it comes as a surprise—or perhaps not at all—when she confesses that she actually has issues with cutting them up.

“What made cutting the comics acceptable is that [they are] part of a comic collection book,” Santos explains. “So, no original comic deaths.”

In the series, which has become the solo show “Only What I Want to See” at Blanc Gallery, she found a muse: the women on the pages. “I love the shape of the women in comic books,” she shares. Through her drawings and cutouts, she would put the women back together, albeit in a new way.

“In doing this,” she says, “I’m bringing my audience to the visuals that I see.” She points out that the title of her exhibit is therefore quite literal, and these are the images that she sees: “Cut up, some erased, some separated. Though [they’re] the same [images], I’d like to make them look different, turn them into more mine.”

 

 Isabel Santos photographed in her studio alongside two of her works: What Do We Leave Behind, recently exhibited by West Gallery at Art Fair Philippines, and 32 Weeks Unstimulated, seen on the cover of Rogue

 

“I get sentimental and think maybe it’s also the influence of my grandfather,” she adds, referring to the late Mauro “Malang” Santos, an icon of Philippine modern art. “He painted women too, so these are my women.”

The Edition interviewed Santos to discuss how her relationship with art has changed, why she gravitates toward certain themes in her work, and what it is about women in comics that fascinates her.

How has your relationship with art changed from childhood, from when you were growing up, to now?

It’s definitely changed. It [went from] something I had to deal with or get over with into something I was looking forward to do or go to (regarding openings, museums, galleries). I do think, though, [that] I still have the least patience in going to museums or [the] least interest in art [or] artists. I mean, my sister [Carina] is studying for her master’s degree in art theory and philosophy, so I’m definitely not on that level.

My point is that art isn’t pushed down my throat, haha! I have my own favorites, opinions, and shows I want to go to. I actually look at the works before heading to the buffet table. Kidding!

That said, how do feel you have grown as an artist?

I think that it reinforced in myself the feeling that I need all my works to be good today and the next time I see them. I joke that it should be up to par when I have my retrospective. I say this meaning that I would never put out anything that I wasn’t 100 percent happy with. So I think my style, whatever that is, is pretty much the same, but I’ve grown in technique, or at least I know what brushes to get!

When it comes to artmaking, when are you at your most comfortable? Do you often find yourself experimenting and branching out?

It really depends on my mood. When I prepare a show, I’m always faced with my works to a point that in the next show I’d like to do something opposite. Sometimes I just need to draw a lot after months of painting even for just a day. I rarely have a finished product in mind when I paint so my works are done when I think they look done.

Can you talk about some themes or imagery found in your work and why you’ve gravitated toward them?

I learned my proportions from comic books so my works stem from these images. I branch out when my feelings take over, as cheesy as it sounds. You can see those in my works that look more organic. I do like types/fonts in my works but not so much that it forces meaning to the people looking at it.

If art is expression, what do you express?

I express what I think is beautiful. In experimenting, I’ve found out that I can do other styles, but I do what I like to see. In my art, I try to do what I like, or attempt to.

How much of yourself do you put in your art?

I’d like to be not so available, but I can’t help it. Pakipot is an art I’m not good at. I put all of myself in art, so much so that if people don’t like it, I think they don’t like me. I know that’s not the truth, but I can’t help but think that it’s personal.

 

You’ve mentioned that “Only What I Want to See” comes from your appreciation for the shape of women in comics. What is it about them that you find particularly interesting?

I’m not really sure why the women appeal to me. I like the body in general, but I like the curves [and] fingers the best in comics and in real people—they help me with proportions. Also, I do paint myself often. I don’t think it’s vanity, but it’s learning anatomy on a budget. I don’t have models to work with. Maybe women may be more visually interesting to me.

How is this show different from your previous work or anything you’ve ever done?

It’s different in that I know I’m different. My 2014 comics look like my 2014 self. My 2018 comics look like my 2018 self. If that makes sense.

“Only What I Want to See” is open to the public until April 28, 2018, at Blanc Gallery, located at 145 Katipunan Avenue, St. Ignatius Village, Quezon City.

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