Contemporary Art > In her oil paintings, Nicole M. Santiago portrays semi-autobiographical scenes of everyday life, rejecting the grandiose in lieu of the mundane, surely a contemporary nod to 17th-century Dutch genre painting. The non-heroic characters in her works are embedded in the throes of domestic mundanity, even when those characters are marginalized or seemingly absent. But these prosaic personal depictions do not exist solely on the surface. Instead, the artist invites the viewer to explore deeper narrative layers, divulging a moodier undercurrent of universal grief, humor, and selfless devotion.
Santiago’s recent body of work deals with the various responsibilities of domestic caretaking. As a mother of two small children, part-time caregiver to nonagenarian grandparents, and caretaker of a terminally ill father, it’s no surprise that Santiago has traded in cakes (a former common painting subject) for pill bottles.
Similar to her past works, Santiago delivers these narratives in a thinly veiled domestic tableau. Viewers who choose to dig beyond the initial read may discover undercurrents of complex and tangled bittersweet stories of love and loss.
“Within the rhythm of living, there exists a profoundly complex and layered narrative,” Santiago says. “In my work, I obliquely depict the semi-autobiographical stories most personal to me. I suggest what exists behind the shroud of the domestic and the mundane. Despite the outward stillness within my work (and even the picture plane itself), I strive to defy the stillness of the painting, allowing past residues and future suggestions to swirl around the present, creating a kind of ‘thick time.’
“While storytelling drives my work, I am never tied to a specific storyline, which provides leeway to contort narratives to the broader needs of the underlying abstraction. To this end, I may run through several stories in the course of a painting, in a sense, finding my subject through the process. My intent is to create works that are engaging in both the content and the underlying abstract aesthetic.”
Santiago earned a B.F.A. in studio art from Indiana University and an M.F.A. in painting from the University of New Hampshire. She is currently an associate professor of art at Virginia’s College of William and Mary, where she has taught figure drawing, color theory, and composition for the past 13 years. With her extensive education and instructional experience, Santiago has become an expert at articulating painting techniques and theories to students of all levels.
Although her stylistic and philosophical approaches make it logical to compare her with the Perceptual Painters — a group of contemporary artists who challenge the assumptions of the visual world and who focus on space, volume, color, and shapes — Santiago’s paintings are simultaneously individualistic, with a strong female viewpoint all her own.
Santiago is an exhibiting member of First Street Gallery (New York City). Connect with the artist at nicolemccormicksantiago.com.
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