Art and Science: Santiago Betancur

October 29, 2010

"Two different points of view (art and science) are converging."

Despite already envisioning myself as more of a "liberal arts" student, when we studied vision in the 6th grade, I was fascinated. It was one of the few times I came home wanting to explain something I learned to my mother. I remember her patiently listening to my 11-year-old scientific explanation.

When I hit junior high, I was faced with some not-so-great science teachers. My 7th grade teacher made us stare into microscopes during class and draw what we saw.  I liked the drawing part but didn't learn much about what I was drawing. My 8th grade teacher had such distracting facial tics that I couldn't pay attention to what she was saying (not her fault, of course).  I don't even remember 9th grade science teacher.  Then finally, for 10th grade, there was a teacher all the kids loved; I was looking forward to her class.

Come that September, her husband had a heart attack; she took a sabbatical.  In her place, we had a substitute who knew nothing about science.  By the time I was eligible to take chemistry and physics, I had ruled out science as an interest.  Instead, I took courses in creative writing, library science, and got a credit serving as student aid for one of the English teachers.  By my senior year, I was so bored that I graduated early.  I couldn't take it anymore!

Through a twist of fate, I stumbled upon my 6th grade fascination with science again in college.  Four years later, I graduated with a degree in Biology.  Sometimes, I'm still surprised that I have a science degree.  But then I remind myself why.

A lot of folks view science and creativity as mutually exclusive.  I saw them as one and the same.  Sitting in my college biology classes, I found a new kind of creativity--that which can be found in nature.  My degree program was focused on human biology so I took courses such as genetics, molecular biology and genetics, physiology, cell biology, histology, and medical microbiology.  The intricate, fascinating machinations of human biology stimulated me both intellectually and creatively.  The creativity in nature never ceased to amaze me. 

My guest today, artist Santiago Betancur, focuses his work on the fascinating interweave between science and creativity.  He deeply appreciates art in nature, and seeks to express it on multiple levels within his work. His fascinating art seeks to lesson the divide between the worlds of science and art, and has been praised on both planes. Given that I share his belief that it is within nature that we find the highest levels of creativity, his work both captivates and inspires me.

"Using a mixture of acrylic paint and pure water, Betancur worked on life-size figure paintings that can only be described as a synthesis between Da Vinci's anatomical sketches, Goya's Black Paintings, and of course, the undefined substance of Betancur himself." 
Anna Visnitskaya, Krasa Fine Art

Santiago is one of the gifted owners of Area 23 Gallery in Miami.   Watch this video to see Santiago at work.

Can you describe what makes you feel successful as an artist?

My life has shown me an unavoidable way to express what I feel through art, especially in the hardest moments and during crisis. I have felt the most amazing success when I see the reaction of the public interacting with my paintings. This is because I perceive that the people can't avoid feeling a deep psychological impact, which shows effective communication that is sometimes almost vertiginous.

I see that I’m going deeper and deeper in to the human experience, never stopping.

What are your current goals?
My goal is to generate new concepts for how humanity views itself in many fields. It may sound pretentious, but my process has shown me how complex, mysterious and fascinating we are, and I aim to explore that. Doing so provides me with a special and beautiful feeling of humility each time I capture in my art the miracle of life and all that it implies.

During the last two years I've been showing my paintings in Miami. The last eight months this has been in my own gallery in the Wynwood Arts District. The gallery is a collaboration with a few other artists. Our goal is to partner on focusing on new and better levels of technique and expression, and obviously, additional exposure for our work.

With regard to your current creative focus, was there an "ah-ha" moment you can tell us about? 

 My painting ah-ha is happening now. It’s based on my close relationship with the science world.

In the last few weeks, my paintings have been praised by doctors and scientist who recognize, feel, and see (in my anatomy work) concepts and knowledge concerning their fields of study. Two different points of view (art and science) are converging. This means a lot to me because bringing these aspects together is one of my primary goals.

For you, is art more about creation or expression? It could be both, but does one dominate with regard to your need/urge/desire to be an artist and why?

Maybe we are created to express. Perhaps our ability to create is to echo or provide a resonance of our connection with the different aspects of nature; a tribute to life, to its beauty, or to God. Sometimes these tributes of expression are made possible with a sense of sacrifice common to the "tormented artists." The paradox is that this blessing comes from suffering, which enables us to understand a certain level of beauty.

Many artist focus on one particular subject or style.  How important is this for career development?  Have you ever grown tired of painting the same types of  things, and if so, can you tell us about it?

Actually, I try to focus on the same things; my obsessions are permanent. But I'm always trying to use different techniques because art asks for experimentation. If you follow that call, the results are usually enriched. You won't be let down.
Life is filled with aberrations. Do you attempt to capture those in your work as you focus on the beauty of humanity?
Rather than the aberrations, the feeling I try to capture in my art is the greatness of the human being and the miracle of life. I do this even when the darker face of my work is present. It enhances the sense of mystery and the disturbing power of art. This may enable the spectator to reflect on his aberrations while also recognizing the beauty in life.

During difficult or challenging times in your life, does writing sooth or inspire you? Is it therapeutic in any way?

I set a dialogue between doctor and patient within me. I'm both simultaneously, as a painter and a subject. That is like going to the space in my mind where I can find both my diseases and then my cures.
Have you ever had to deal with people in your life failing to understand your creative personality, interests, or drive?

Each moment of your life can give you the creative satisfaction of finding the subtlest things that show you that you are headed the right way.

Have you developed a specific creative process that enables you to meet your artistic goals? If so, can you tell us about it.

Identifying methods is fundamentally what we need to do. As I paint, I know that I need to keep a special image related to specific feelings that want to get out in my imagination, prefigured, then I exploit. Vibrate till burst, like the cicadas.
What do you believe places an artist apart from his or her peers? So many are highly talented, but what makes one stand out as truly gifted?

It is not relevant considering that a true artist competes only with himself.

With regard to gifts, increasing them is the responsibility for each talented person. In my case, you could say that I'm doing that through my connection with the world of science and the knowledge that explains to us the functions of the universal shapes. I find here my natural field, because I'm always appreciating the beauty plus the intelligence with the same emotion.
What is your primary motto or mantra in life? Why is this important to you?

Now I'm trying to be aware that we are only neurons achieving the best information that we can get from the Universe. We are his feedback; this concept led to the title of my series of self portraits, which is "Worshiper."

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