To you and myself, collage is simply the act of copying and pasting images together to create juxtaposing and sometimes comedic images. A simple activity learnt while at pre-school probably. So,how hard could it be? Nicolás Santos is a Paris based artist on another level. Merging fashion with the idea of collage as an art form, he creates dynamic pieces that capture the viewer’s imagination and push the boundaries. Nicolás took time to talk about his start in the industry, his fashion inspiration and his recent collaborative work with Kris van Assche.
How did you become an artist? Have you been formally trained in the practice?
This may sound like a cliché, but I inherited from my mother the interest in arts, especially in photography and painting, and I also studied Graphic Design at art school. So it's not exactly an "artist training", but I think it did help to establish a background. Above all I’m mostly an autodidact.
Why did you choose collage as your preferred medium and not another form of art? What makes collage more intriguing for you than sculpture or painting?
I actually never chose collage; it came as a natural way of expression, almost by mistake. I think collage has the power of creating different and multiple realities in one single image, and that is what I find most intriguing about it.
Where does the inspiration for your collages come from? Which is the source of your images?
Desire and absence have always been my main subjects, my first pieces were made with vintage gay porn magazines, but this quest on desire began to drift slowly towards fashion imagery, so I started using almost any image I could find, old magazines, new magazines, books, vintage portraits. Anything printed on paper with a solid reference.
It all used to be based on appropriation, creating new images from old ones. Now I use collage as a medium, as well as creating the content by transforming new images.
I have the impression that the social thought on collages is that it's quite a simple process. Talk us through the process from start to end assemblage. How long does take for you to finish up a piece?
More than simple I think it's instinctive, anyone can "use" the technique, but in my case I use it because I want to transmit something in particular, and visualizing that something, conceptualizing ideas, adapting them and creating a "path" is what takes most of the time. The process of collage itself -this is, transforming images- can take from a single morning if everything is clear, to a whole week if it involves several steps.
Is there one piece you're particularly proud of?
I'm actually very proud of the collaboration I did for Metal#25, with the campaigns of the season.
Movement and dance seems to be integral to some of your work. Would you agree with this statement? Do you find movement to be an added aspect to your work?
I had never thought about that, but I think I could agree. Expression is very important to me, and most of all, corporal expression. We limit our own bodies, and I like to think I try to push those limits in my work.
Your work includes fashion branding such as Prada and Vogue - would you say you're inspired by fashion imagery?
Totally. I can't say I was into fashion when I was young, but I belong to a generation whose visual references are mostly fashion references. I find de-constructing these references, isolating them and exposing them a very interesting process.
What artists are inspirational to your work?
I don't want to name drop, so I’ll just name Jenny Holzer. The strength of her constrained messages is a constant influence.
Would it be fair to say your work can be seen to have a homoerotic, sexual undercurrent? Do you create work to provoke a reaction on the viewer or do you see your work as being indicative of society today?
As I said, my work is based on desire, and sex -gay sex specifically- was a natural starting point, but it was never intended to create an specific reaction because of the theme, so I think it's more indicative of society today -or at least of myself.
Fashion media is an art form that has had to evolve with the rise of digital media. Do you think digital media has an impact on your art? Do you think it's possible to marry the two?
I do use digital media, but not as a concept itself -as in net art- but more as a technique. I'm very open to new media, and I do intend to experiment with anything I find interesting.
As an artist, your career must be littered with ups and downs. What's been the biggest learning curve up to now, and which has been the highlight of your career so far?
The biggest learning curve has been this last year: moving out of Spain has made me leave behind anything un-necessary and learn to focus on what I really want. As for the highlight of my career, I like to believe it's yet to come.
The recent Kris van Assche AW13 campaign was art directed by you. How did the collaboration come along and how do you merge your aesthetic to fit into the fashion label’s one?
The Kris Van Assche team contacted me to work on the campaign, since the collection and my work had some common points: the layering, the cuts, and the whole "collage" effect. It was a really nice experience and I’m very happy of how my work and the brand's image merged. I tricked myself into thinking I had a lot of freedom.
What is your ideal mode of display - in the pages of a glossy fashion magazine or in the context of a white-cube gallery space?
A white cube gallery space makes anything look better, and a glossy fashion magazine reaches a wide audience, but my ideal mode of display is on someone's wall. Seeing how someone different from myself receives my work and gives it a new context gives me a reason to keep working.
What 5 words would sum up a Nicolas Santos art piece?
Desire - obsession - absence - mistake – constraint, and I’ve named them all in the interview.