Cesar Santos and Syncretism

A review by M.C. Guilmet

Art transcends form. Great Art transcends form greatly. If "significant form" indeed exists perhaps it exists as a perfect essence through which Art reveals itself when informed intent is conveyed perfectly through skilled expression. The "skilled" part found not only in technique, but in the perfect realization of all choices that move toward the desired and finally expressed concept.

Cesar Santos creates images that at once delight the visual mind as they give form to vibrant questions. Are these images an insult hurled at modern and contemporary art by a master of traditional painting technique? Are they a painter's biting inside joke? Or, are they perhaps secret homage to the imaginings and explorations of the 20th century? Do these images, through inclusion, further immortalize the work of the 20th Century artists that many figurative painters in 2011 wish had never been made at all?

Considered inspection of his body of work reveals that no branded artist labeled "traditional" or "modern" is spared conscription into Cesar's world. From Rembrandt to Calder, Velazquez to Bacon, Santos conjures the imagery of these iconic personalities and casts them as 21st century celebrities in his own showpieces. Not merely a realist transcription of nature, these pieces tantalize as complex and compelling narratives, pulling you into this painter's story and the questions he is asking himself and us.

For centuries philosophy has exerted profound influence on visual art. Art and Artifice is inextricably tied to the production of meaning. In the early/mid 20th century, some philosophers explored the mutability of meaning, the limitations of linguistics, and the empty illusions of mass culture. The French philosophers of the mid/late 20th century such as Baudrillard, Lyotard and Deleuze, in extension of such ideas, explored thinking and concepts that still echo and influence today's 21st century art scene as they are even now being digested and understood. Sometimes it is said that within this current art scene "nihilism" abounds, and irony rules the day. Some believe that modernist and post-modernist philosophers sought to prove there is no real meaning, no real truth. Perhaps, but if 20th century philosophers showed that there is no real consistent meaning or truth because context changes, then they also showed that though the content of meaning changes and shifts, the container, the essence, the ideal form of meaning itself always continues to exist, in one form or another. That in itself seems a consistent truth.

One important element postmodern philosophy explores is "difference as a means of production", and is an idea appearing in the writings of Giles Deleuze. This concept suggests that "difference" is not a means of negation, but a productive mechanism unto itself. In his Difference and Repetition (1968, English 1984) Deleuze critiques our faculty of representation. As noted art theorist Robert Williams explains Deleuze thinking, "The emphasis that representation puts upon the principles of identity, resemblance, opposition and analogy works to suppress the real role of repetition and difference in the subjective constitution of reality. For Deleuze, difference is the basic condition of being, and repetition is an effect of it's "productive power." Unlike the "Hegelian Dialectic" that requires two different forces to be in opposition, Deleuze sees that any two combining forces merely need be "different", and opposition is not a requirement for a new meaning, or reality, to be born. This idea is not unlike the more ancient concept of "Syncretism" that is the blending of two or more belief systems, cultures or religions to form a new synthesized reality. These discrete elements need not be in opposition, merely different.

Irrespective of Cesar Santos specific intent for each painting and whether or not his sensibility fully acquiesces to the syncretistic position his current efforts hold, it is clear he is an artist who embodies the most relevant avant-garde state of the continuum of visual art. A student of modern and contemporary art for almost eight years, as well as a student of the grand masters and classical painting technique in Florence Italy, Santos cannot help but be a product of his experiences and passions. From his visual mind, all he has absorbed and considered about visual artistic culture is brought to us through his brush, for our consideration.

Alone, the exquisite poetry and craftsmanship of these paintings may guarantee their position as timeless art able to survive the coming centuries. Equally important, as a specific reflective snapshot of the broad artistic synthesis currently underway that is uniquely and immediately relevant to this early 21st Century, these images will most surely be considered as important works and assure their valued inspection for generations to come.

-M.C. Guilmet, New Mexico, October, 2011