FLORILEGIUM or THE FLOWER SEASON

From a play on the countless variations of nature and plant images, the artistic work of Jorge Santos develops, quite intensely, on the sense of the natural world itself or, better still, on how we relate to it. The way this discourse isn’t merely grounded – by its proposed status as art – in a dimension of artifice, but instead highlights artificiality, is thus essential to our full understanding of Santos’ work.
Jorge Santos gives his images an immersive stage design character: because he strives to make image scale and model scale coincide (or brings them as close as possible); because he reproduces directly (by tracing and projection) the selected shapes onto the real world; because he takes us to establish a spatial rapport with these shapes. Therefore, leaves and branches, the reflections of these these leaves and branches, the irregular surfaces created by the vegetation’s shadows and reflections on puddles and walls, or their outline in the skies, eventually end up relating to us, viewers, on a common ground: our real body meets the paintings and installations’ hyperreal body in the exhibition or living rooms where they are displayed.
This immersive dimension becomes sharper when we realize that Santos’ works are not, ultimately, so much about “things reproduced”, as they are things that, captured in a (d’après nature) dimension, are transported into another (artistic) dimension where they become ravaging images themselves.
In fact, by expanding these images in the spaces we inhabit (in huge canvases, delicate installations and/or projections, Jorge Santos creates a set whose destiny is to capture us viewers. This strategy is something more than a mere visually-surprising and misguiding trompe l’oeil; instead it is part of a continuous seduction strategy, ultimately achieved in the pleasure-in-seeing and being-in-what-you-see. He creates scenarios of a possible joie de vivre; but their fragmentary successive disposition (always as frames of a wider and never fully encompassing reality), discloses their unavoidable fate of melancholia and incompleteness.

LIFE IN THE WOODS

One can observe in the works of Jorge Santos the expression of a will that materializes itself as a simulated will to systematize nature. This agenda puts him in the role of both dweller and creator of a collector’s labyrinthine universe. Jorge Santos puts himself as a collector of leaves and flowers (a builder of florilegia or herbaria) or, figuratively, as someone who selects for an anthology that could as well be literary but here is of pure visuality.
Nevertheless, Jorge Santos is a classifier who boycotts classification systems. First, instead of collecting natural specimens (leaves and flowers) for his herbarium he just records and reproduces their images (by photographing, projecting, and painting them). Because of this mimetic approach, everything seems to remain “the same” but the real models are in fact disguised by the radical change in the whole chromatic and volume verism.
Let us imagine the artist putting us before some forest trails and providing no instructions on how to take them, or on how, when actually taking them, to possibly formulate the questions triggered by our presence in the world, or ourselves-in-the-world. Suddenly, the only thing we realize is that this forest in which he immerses us suddenly bursts into colour, that it leaves us restless, that it denies us a place in it.
Jorge Santos forces us into a natured nature, meaning, a represented nature; in fact, a nature remarkably made artificial by the aesthetic solutions used in the representation, especially by the bi-dimensionality of the outlined shapes and hyperchromia. This way, the life in the woods Jorge Santos is proposing becomes impossible, just as impossible as the construction of a retreat cabin. The understanding of Nature as an harmonious organism with which we should (re)unite in the bonds of primeval balance becomes unnecessary. It is never a mimetic practice, nor even camouflage, but rather the denial of the copy starting from the copy itself (the artificiality of the colour denies the truthfulness of the shape, the abstract synthesis of the shape denies the possibility of all naturalism). It is not about naturalizing art, but rather about making Nature artificial.

FLOWER WISHES

The shape issue and the colour issue are essential to the whole process. If the work of Jorge Santos has always made reference to the plant world, that work has seldom taken him to the floral. This is yet another clue towards the radicalism of his decorative démarche: the formal amenity of flowered gardens emerges in his work taken aback by the bleaker, less complex, thicker figure of the leaves (and/or the forest’s). The colour burst of his images does not come as a representation of any kind of bloom but as a decorative artifice for the foliage. It does not come as flowery delicateness or sensuality but as a decorative provocation. The fact that the hyperchromia we have mentioned resolves invariably in bi-chromia stresses the existing abyss between reality and the work of art, between shape and colour, between the painted surface and the space around it – the chromatic harmony reached by each of the selected colour duo is not delicate at all, but virile, it may be hysterical but it can never be histrionic. There is a flower wish in each and every composition completed by the colouring of the shapes (the leaves) according to abstract and yet related criteria (contiguity, contrast, opposition, tone proximity…).
It is in the way he represents this foliage that the full understanding of Jorge Santos’ work is played.. The illusion of outline is also another visual strategy being served by the drawing-painting exercises. We have already seen that these shapes are pure bi-dimensional ones: the leaves have lost the representation of their texture and nerves in order to become outlined surfaces or just traces – just as the paper cut silhouettes made popular by German Romanticism; or the shadows recorded in multiple crafts by Lourdes Castro’s able hands ; or, yet still, the plants, flowers, stars… coming to life from Matisse’s sick hands in craft paper. Just like in some of these examples, in Jorge Santos’ compositions we are unable to sort out what is shape and what is background. The artist stresses this difficulty further in those where he highlights (using colour or matter or both) the backgrounds, making them autonomous shapes. On one hand, skies or reflecting pools in contre-plongée in the wood clearings, or in plongée in the fractal limit uncertainty of a rainwater puddle, are shown as framed by foliage and take centre place as full figures of the representation. On the other hand, this is a way of evening not just shape and background, but also high and low – an easily reachable point and an unreachable one become united by a perfect vertical line and can even exchange places if we look at the sky on a puddle. Colour is an exaltation strategy that does not abide to any syllabus or pre or post Newtonian lesson, but rather to an empirical experimentalism where he puts together good taste and provocation.

RED ROOM OR VIOLENT SPRING

Once we see the work of Jorge Santos (painting, “installed” painting on a retro vertical window blind, catalogue, “sketchbook” with shape and colour studies) we understand that all and any plant nature tour we may possibly take through him will eventually lead us back to an indoor space, one which the artist may have never left after all, and to which he most certainly wants to lure us. The artificiality (by excess) that we have been commenting on is part of a two-folded strategy: capturing the exterior onto the interior; in the interior, using the (setting) exterior to capture the viewer. Colour play creates tension points between Mondrian’s floral symbolism and Warhol’s flower disengagement. Notwithstanding, the all-encompassing character of his images in space, and creating new spaces, can be understood in a set design mode undertaking the decorative tradition of symbolism from William Morris onwards. Jorge Santos’ images tend to create the illusion of wallpaper application, and even though the essential pattern repetition and complete coverage is never accomplished, it remains there as a wish.
From all the different solutions presented by Jorge Santos in these works, I indulge myself in imagining just this one: a precise colour, a precise use. And I feel like making it the colour of a room. I have always felt, ever since adolescence, this obsession for a Red Room, a room I have entered very often, looking at the things that live there, touching them with curious eyes. A room in which I have lingered, excited by the intense red and the things drawn on it and in it. Across the whole surface of this painting by Matisse (dated 1908 and known as “Harmony in Red”), making no compromise with three-dimensional space, a repetition of a flower motif (stylized branches surrounding a flower basket) simulating a pattern, an uneven one, spreads across the whole surface. I have always nurtured the possibility of inhabiting this room, as if I could live inside a painting, even one that mocks spatial illusion, forcing everything into being just a drawing and an outline – like that chair, the table, the objects and fruit on top of it, the lady leaning over, or even the elements in that landscape opening inside a window where Euclidean space is also denied. In that agreed “outdoor” there is a quiet promise of Nature, but it is the red interior’s Violent Springtime that seduces me. It is possible to inhabit a room and in it to travel the world because, as Xavier de Maîstre has so well explained, the world can fit in a voyage around our room: a voyage of opposites around a world of pleasure and pessimism, repetition and rupture, of beauty and the unconscious.

João Pinharanda

Lisbon, February 8th, 2015