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Cesar Santos: The Aesthetic of Syncretism

The Old and the New

While revolutionary is seldom a term one would use to describe a realistic oil painting, young Cuban artist Cesar Santos challenges this notion with a set of works that are classic and contemporary at the same time. In a style reminiscent of Renaissance masters, he places the subjects in scenes that are both traditional and relevant in a modern society.

"Aftermath" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas

It seems that those first emotions that Cesar experienced during his childhood – seeing his uncle Raul Santos Serpa dedicate himself to his abstract painting in the art workshop in Cuba and viewing the works of other artists in galleries – are the ones he seeks to revive and generate in each of his pieces. Impressed by uncle’s work, young Cesar decided to pursue career in the arts, experimenting and learning along the way, looking for his own artistic voice and ways to express it.

"Re-Creation" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas
"En Plain Air Paintings" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas

“I’ve always wanted to change things up, so I decided to train myself with the rigor of the old masters to build a strong foundation for my expression.”

"The Three Graces" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas

Juxtaposed Syncretism

The influence of classic nineteenth-century portraits is evident: the compositions of living bodies in active positions that express the sensory impression they have left on the artist, that are portrayed with authenticity in terms of the incidence of light on the models. The hyperrealism merges with this somewhat childish and mass media influence on the overall scene and the person portrayed, giving the traditional setting a contemporary spin in a way that makes the artwork relevant and ironic.

"Character Day" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas
"Bombast" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas

Cesar’s trademark style is called Syncretism, a term he coined in 2011 when presenting a series of works in which he collided classical works of art with his own interpretations of contemporary currents, and even self-portrayed himself within the works to break the temporal and even social distance that separates the viewer from the classical art.

"Babysitting" by Cesar Santos, oil on canvas

In Cesar Santos’ work, the dialogue that is generated with the viewer about human beauty is undoubtedly a wake-up call for society: his characters are diverse in terms of age, ethnic group and social strata, however, are all portrayed at the same level of the author’s gaze, equating and immortalizing them within their individuality through the strokes of the artist and thus converting each of them, into a new classic – and act of a revolutionary genius.

All images copyright of Cesar Santos

You can view more work by Cesar on his Instagram and website.

Article written by Anamaria Aguirre Chourio and Natalie Kotok

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