Stepping into the world of artist Eduardo Santos is an ethereal and magical experience.
Organic to the core, Santos works with sand, earth, paint and varnish, his creations embody the tempestuous relationships and spontaneous forces of nature and it’s powerful elements. Well, that’s what I see anyway, amongst other things.
Santos works in a large, shared studio tucked away in the quaint and distinguished suburb of Woollahra, Sydney, and it is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible buildings that I’ve ever had the pleasure of entering. I fall hopelessly in love in an instant. At the age of 120, it was originally built to stable workhorses before lending itself to become a window frame factory in the early to mid-1900s. It is clear that not a lot has been done to update this crumbling beauty since those industrious days of old. They don’t come more authentic than this, that’s for sure. The toilet is pretty interesting, I haven’t experienced anything that primitive since Glastonbury Festival pre Port-a-Loo days.
There are ghosts here too..resting quietly in every nook and every cranny. The whispers and echoes of memories…decades of happy moments and sad times. The rich tapestry of life – War, kisses, heartbreak, laughter, dust, horseshoes, loss, wood, splinters, feuds, leather, sweat, death, betrayal, tears, blood, struggle, lust. All engrained and imprinted forever in the rickety walls and shiny-worn floorboards.
This historic property certainly makes for a warm, eclectic backdrop for such modern and raw artwork, and yet, in stark contrast, I have also had the pleasure of viewing his work against the vast, white warehouse walls of Sydney’s The Other Art Fair 2015 and 2016 – they commanded attention and cast their spells just as masterfully there too.
The Art that Evokes.
I’m standing beside a keen international art buyer. She is very educated and terribly glamorous. I decide to seem knowledgeable by saying very little. And I’m wearing trainers. We are silent in our admiration as we gaze at the latest Santos artworks. Apart from the occasional thoughtful head tilt we are almost catatonic.
The art collector explains why she loves this painter’s work – It is because each and every piece is unique to each and every one of us, we all see something completely different and it’s a very personal experience. She finds it almost hypnotic. I agree completely and nod enthusiastically.
In one piece she sees a ruddy, sunburnt childhood in the dusty planes of rural South Africa, the jutting and unforgiving cliffs and gullies of the Grand Canyon from her trip in 2003. Crashing crystal waves slamming into the sand, framed by an enormous, blood orange Margaret River sunset.
In another piece I see the flinty stone bricks that encase old Norfolk cottages, a 200-year-old paddock, where I lay in my youth, cushioned by a velvety blanket of deep moss green, tripping at dawn in dew-drenched Levi’s, then, fast forward to a thunderstorm in the forests of Transylvania, the shiny slate cave that sheltered us before we discovered wolf poo, the utter panic as we ran, slipping and grabbing at tree roots, as we cascaded like human marbles down a sharp muddy ravine to the rushing streams below.
Apart from the wolf poo, it all sounds so romantic, doesn’t it? I also saw the turreted palace from the Wizard of Oz and Batman’s right eye but that seemed too fantastical to admit to at this time when everyone else seems to be mentally engulfed by integral visions of nature’s wonders.
Later that day I show photos of these artworks to a friend (who has zero interest in art, he’s more of a rugby and game fishing kinda guy) and I ask him what he sees. After an eye roll and a thoughtful moment, he replies “Without wanting to sound like a wanker I see Heaven, The Great Barrier Reef and the shooting star I saw in the Hunter Valley last year”. I assured him that he didn’t sound like a wanker and that of course I wouldn’t write about this.
Eduardo Santos has big kind eyes, a gentle manner and an accent that can only be described as beautiful. He is humble and generous, with a childhood and heritage that is fascinating, to say the least. He doesn’t think so, when I put that to him he simply shrugs his shoulders and grins.
Down by the River.
“I was born in Fortaleza in the North of Brazil but I actually grew up between two small towns – Santa Rita which is inland and Praia de Lucena which is a fishing village. When I was a boy I was usually cared for by my grandfather who was an indigenous amazonian when my family went to work. He would take me to the Jacuípe River, where he collected mud for the making of his pottery. I do think that this is why I start a painting by placing the canvas on the floor and crouching over it while I make the initial plans for the piece. Just like he did when running his hands through the river and the mud. It sounds uncomfortable I know but it isn’t for me. Maybe not so easy as I get older! As the work progresses, I then stand it against the wall and finish it, sitting on my stool and standing.”
“I think spending so much time with my grandfather there, in and around the streams and river banks inspired my love for texture and movement in my work and the rich colours of nature. My grandmother was an embroiderer and I also think of her too, watching her methodically create, surrounded by the bright and bold threads and fabrics.”
“My mother still lives in Santa Rita. My family are great… I don’t know if they fully understand my art but they think it’s visually beautiful and they are very supportive”.
The Journey to Now
At 18 Santos left Brazil for London, studying English and later attending Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design.
Madrid was his next port of call where he studied fashion design, illustration, and textiles at Instituto Europe de Design.
In the late 1990’s Santos met Jason Mowen (now a highly revered interior designer and writer for Vogue Living Magazine) and a firm and lasting friendship and creative business partnership began.
Santos and Mowen launched a men’s fashion business in London’s Convent Garden in 2000 which they enjoyed for 9 years before heading to Sydney to open the elegantly eclectic ‘Jason Mowen Interiors, Art and 20th Century’ where Santos’s art and photography hung majestically on the walls as a rotating exhibition amidst the stunning hand picked antique collectables sourced from around the world and custom made furniture, designed by Mowen.
Through the years Santos has worked in Madrid, Marrakech, Singapore and Ibiza, gaining notoriety that would attract the attention of private collectors from New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Madrid and Berlin who continue to acquire and commission his work.
“Music plays a huge part in the process of creating my work. I listen to classical, mostly instrumental, it gets deep into my soul as a beautiful flow”.
“Just to do what I love to do, more painting, more photography…maybe an exhibition”.
I look forward to it. I’ll be there with countless others, champagne in hand, ready to lose myself in another ethereal Santos experience.
Photographer Graham Jepson