The Portuguese artist’s major subject is memory – beauty is elusive in his quietly minimalist work.
Jorge Santos has a knack for turning the world outside-in. His photography, sculpture, films and drawing call up memories, filling interior space with ghostly doubles of buildings and nature. Brushing up against a gallery wall, you might discover the gentle protrusion of a wrought-iron fence, realised as a white stucco relief, or look down to find autumn leaves reflected in a pool of black acrylic on the floor. Beauty always seems to be on the move – be it a white cloud of smoke that coils and twists, illuminated by a film projector in a dark room, or the twirling, kaleidoscopic flowers that appear in one of his recent video installations.
Born in 1974, the Lisbon-based artist has shown widely in Spain and his native Portugal, and is now having his first UK exhibition at Bristol’s Spike Island. While Santos’s work typically looks cool in pared-down black and white, his quiet minimalism has Romantic and psychological concerns. In early works like Árvore (tree) and Sombra (shadow), nature turns noir: fleeting shadows of trees are mapped in a vast grid of photographs. His 2005 series, of artificial black Perspex puddles etched with leaves, titled Tragaluz (“skylight” in Castilian), seems to invert windows and mirrors, inside and out, heaven and earth, dark and light.
Santos’s major subject is memory. He explores its Proustian and Uncanny surprises in reproductions of what he finds in the landscape around the galleries he works in. From a distance his work Blind Gate, included in his current show, seems no more than two large sheets of white paper, fluttering against the wall they’re pinned to. Close up, the delicate embossed pattern of riverside fencing comes into focus. Step too far back, however, and the vision vanishes.
Why we like him: For the eerie Gothic beauty of his 2009 video Branches That Blow. Seen in silhouette against the moon, two branches extend their fingers towards one another like uncertain lovers, beneath a breathy, whispering soundtrack.
My Funny Valentine: Santos’s Fragments of Love Songs, drawings that look like gravestones or memorial tablets, seem engraved with lyrics from love songs. His own favourites, he says, are Chet Baker‘s, “because they’re all about loss and rediscovery”.
First love: While Santos cites Rachel Whiteread and Félix González-Torres as particular inspirations, the first artist to make an impression on him was Modigliani. He recalls being wowed by the long necks and disturbing lack of eyes of the Italian painter’s subjects when he first saw prints of his work in a doctor’s waiting room at the age of six.
Where can I see him?: Jorge Santos’s solo exhibition, the world appeared to her reflected by pure inwardness, is at Spike Island, Bristol until 26 September.