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CURTIS ‘TALWST’ SANTIAGO

"My mixed ancestral roots allow me to address the conflicted nature of being many things".

Trinidadian-Canadian mixed media artist Curtis ‘Talwst’ Santiago grew up in Edmonton, first pursuing a career in music before making a name for himself with his elaborately imagined miniatures scenes confined inside jewelry boxes. Today he is based in Munich, Germany, with his work spanning installation, painting, sculpture and more.

Photography CONSTANTIN MIRBACH       Interview HOUSE OF SHILA

HOS: Tell us a little about your path into the arts.

CS: It’s been one of perseverance, serendipity and a deep trust in cosmic timing

I started as a singer after developing an obsession for Prince and Bowie as a small child. I knew from a young age art would be my life.

HOS: What was it like growing up in Canada, and how did it shape the man you are today?

CS: Cold! I grew up in Alberta with minus 35 winters. That forced us to stay inside and let our imaginations run wild. To keep entertained as teens, my friends and I started a band and built a recording studio. Outside the house I grew up with cowboys, pickup trucks and hockey. Inside was Motown, calypso and breakdancing.

HOS: Your ancestral roots lie in Trinidad. How much does this inspire your work?

CS: Carnival is a great source of creative energy that has inspired me ever since my first time visiting as a child. It taught me the various ways of storytelling, be it song or costume or dance. I speak specifically to Trinidadian Carnival, which is a mashup of African and European traditions. My mixed ancestral roots allow me to address the conflicted nature of being many things.

HOS: How has becoming a father influenced your work? 

CS:  Felix has shown me how creating art can be playful. I can apply his freedom to my rigour. Also I used to just live in the studio and didn’t really make time for relationships or anything. All I wanted to do was work, now I want to play LEGO or build forts and dance to MJ on repeat.

“I grew up in Alberta with minus 35 winters. That forced us to stay inside and let our imaginations run wild”.

HOS: You originally pursued a music career. How does music interplay with your work as a visual artist? And what are you listening to in the studio at the moment?

CS: Music never really left. Music and I broke up for sometime but it has always been a medium I knew I would come back to. Sometimes music can dictate the direction of the drawing so much it makes it hard for me to hear myself, so then I prefer silence. Otherwise it’s Kanye, Obongjayar, Lola Young, Andre 3000 ,Dionne Warrick, the Burt Bacharach years

HOS: Do you believe all art is political?

CS: For me true art is an expression of the life and time the artist is living in. By that nature it will rub up against the politics of the time.

HOS: Your “Infinity Series” sees complex narratives set inside small ring boxes. What is it that attracts you to working on such a small scale?

CS: It’s the transformation of mundane or discarded materials into portals that can pull the viewer to somewhere otherworldly that attracts me. First and foremost I am a maker-craftsman. Craft is not a dirty word to me as an artist. I want to be master of this thing that I pioneered.

HOS: You said once that through this series you found a way “to get out of America and explore a genetic imagination beyond trauma art”. Can you tell us a bit more about this notion?

CS: The answer is loaded and complicated, so I would rather not speak about it.

HOS: What is your favorite tool in the studio?

CS: My favourite tool would be my electric eraser or my rotary carving tool.

HOS: Being a self-taught painter, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?

CS: Whether self-taught or from the academy, the biggest challenge is the act of painting itself. Technically it gets easier but to build an image is still a boxing match and that’s what I love about it. There are no rules and that can be daunting in itself.

“Becoming a father has shown me how creating art can be playful. I can apply my son’s freedom to my rigour”.

HOS: The idea of community and collaboration is central to your work. Why?

CS: Who wants to make work in a vacuum and be alone? Life is better with community, and to make something beautiful and bigger than oneself, collaboration is essential. That’s what I miss about working in a band.

“Who wants to make work in a vacuum and be alone? Life is better with community”.

HOS: After this life is done, what would you hope people say about you and your work?

CS: That I shared my opportunities and blessings with others.

HOS: You have been a nomad for some time, but now you’ve settled in Munich with your family. How does this feel?

CS: Well I don’t feel like I’ve settled. My partner is an international person and right now Munich is working. We have family support in Munich and I have a beautiful studio, so that’s why it’s working!

TALWST during his residency at SHILA HOTEL
Photography by JUSTIN TYLER CLOSE

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