Welcome back to the Artists of Color series. My schedule for the rest of the year will be packed with art-making, so I’m going to try to do a monthly interview at the very least, perhaps two per month when time allows. Thank you so much for your patience :)
I’m excited to share my latest interview, this time with fantastic London-based sculptor and fine artist Pierre Santos. I first discovered his work on instagram, and was immediately captivated by his beautifully intricate, macabre pieces. I’ve never seen anything like his work, and hope you enjoy reading about how he came to create such refreshingly unique artwork.
1). Tell us about yourself! What is your background, and how would you describe your work?
Hello! my name is Pierre Smith Stewart, but my alias name is Pierre Santos. I’m the middle child of 4 siblings.
I was born in Birmingham UK and lived there until I was 7, but moved up towards London after that. I’ve been freelancing for the last 9 years (I’m 27 now) within the art industry, from graphic design to prop-making in film with Warner Brothers.
In 2010 I started my foundation degree at Central Saint Martins (studying theatre design) doing maquettes. This is when I realized my true passion was sculpture. It was through this experience and creating narratives for characters that I started getting a feel for what I wanted to put out into the world. Around the age of 10-11 I really got into those little Warhammer models and would buy the magazines just to look at the artwork like a pre-pubescent freak haha, but I will always remember the attention to detail in those models. I feel it still influences my work even now.
I would say my work is a mixture of a couple of different things that I find interesting, I use a lot of texture references ranging from tree bark to crustaceans. I would say my work also has very strong macabre undertones.
2). When did you first fall in love with art, and realize that you wanted to pursue it as a career? Did your parents approve or disapprove?
I think I was around 7 years old and I was creating my first comic book (a spin off of the characters from Space Jam) and the amount of effort I put into this book was crazy, it took me weeks. I was fixated at 7, and that’s when everything else in my child life became secondary- the toys, the magazines, and everything in-between. Drawing became my passion.
My mother was and still is very supportive of me, and I think she will always will be my number 1 fan. I think having a strong emotional support system in art is always a good thing. Things can sometimes get a bit hard in art but if there’s someone in your corner rooting for you, it makes it that bit easier to keep pushing on! And god I’ve had a few of those difficult moments!
3). Are you self-taught, or did you go to art school? How important was this training to becoming a professional artist?
I went to art school and studied technical art and special effects, but I feel the course at the time wasn’t really right for me.
After my degree, in order to really develop my style, I did a lot of independent study. I wanted to really craft something that represented me as an artist and an individual. I feel like art school can have a positive impact on you as an individual as they will give you a basic solid foundation, and it’s up to you where you go with it.
You have the space, the uplifting people around you that believe in art to push you to the next level, but it sometimes doesn’t work out like that. I don’t know… I’m undecided if it was more of a detriment or positive…But a lot of the greats didn’t go to art school, so take from this what you will!
4). I absolutely love the baroque level of detail in your pieces! It makes your characters look like they’ve existed for ages, overgrown by nature and weathered by time. Is this something you are going for? And what inspires you most when creating your pieces?
They are reflections of my life experiences and what I have taken from this world as a human being. My cultural background has influenced so much within me. My inspiration ranges from religion, my fascination in Vodou to Afrocentricity.
I think I have quite a cynical outlook on the world, and that comes through in my work. That weathered look you are talking about is a subconscious effort of mine I think reflecting my own skepticism on how over time things get worn down, they become fragile, they get weaker and through this they turn into something else due to circumstances beyond your control…wow that got dark.
5). What is a major obstacle that you have faced in pursuit of your art career? How did you overcome this, or is it something that you still struggle with?
I think being an independent artist you always struggle with what you want to do and what commercially the world wants you to do.
What will pay the bills the quickest! And personally I think it’s getting the balance right. I do a lot of freelance work for other people, and now it’s finding the balance between that and my own work.
But I know there will come a day where I will put everything on hold to really throw myself into my own work.
6). Does representation matter in art?
I think its just nice to be represented throughout all practices artistic or not, it gives the next generation something to look up and relate to. Something they can be a part of. I mean what really got me into comic books was Marvel’s X-Men. What pushed me from fan to super fan was when they introduced this black male character called ‘Maggott’. He had this really warped sense of fashion (and very strange superpowers).
For me as a kid I loved seeing a character like that in a mainstream comic book, a character I could relate to. He wasn’t a criminal, he wasn’t a terrorist, he wasn’t a token friend. He came with his own history and culture. I like that they let the majority look into a multi-faceted minority character.
7). If you could communicate one thing to artists about representing a background or experience that isn’t their own, what would it be?
Just do your research, represent them accurately, and be sensitive to people’s cultures. The 3 golden rules!
8). Do you have a favorite character of color (from film, television, literature, comics, or any piece of art)?
Todd McFarlane’s Spawn was the ultimate anti-hero. I actually got into him through the toys Todd McFarlane released back in the day. I just like how he’s a good guy, but how dark he could get if you messed with him or his family.
Which is even more relatable now that I have a daughter. I think it was one of my first realizations on how complex people are, which as an a 11-year-old was quite an eye-opening moment. It showed me people aren’t just one thing. It’s not just as simple as being good or bad. I think everyone is just shades of grey.
9). Who is the most underrated creator of color you wish everyone knew about?
I’ve always been a massive fan of Basquiat. He’s obviously known by most, but I still don’t think he gets his rightful props! I think he is one of the most, if not the most inspirational artists of all time. I think every black male artist went through a phase of imitating his style! haha
10). What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring artists of color?
For me personally, my color has never prohibited me from getting into the industry, or for that matter in any area of my life.
The industry is becoming more and more diverse in regards to color, religion, or socio-economic background, etc. (from my experiences in England anyway) Be assured your talent will always shine through.
Your color should have no bearing on your aspirations or talent, and you should try not to make this an issue.
I attended university and did my foundation at St Martins, its not cheap with university fees, continuous art materials for projects, etc. Alternatively you can take short courses and practice, every spare moment you get.
Also, really try and monetize your talent and social media platforms. If you can’t afford lots of materials for your ideas, try and get sponsored! When times were hard for me and I had a relatively decent following on the free platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, I sent out emails highlighting this fact and what I could offer companies (such as exposure to a new audience, using their materials in a more unorthodox way) in exchange for art materials.
Just really try and hone your craft, get as much practice in as possible! I think a mistake I made myself was that I worked for people for too long a period of time before I started putting time into my own craft and projects. So young people, start doing your own work early so you can build up a following and a client base! Which will stand you in good stead in the future!
11). Any current projects you can talk about? What is your ultimate dream project that you can’t wait to work on, or be a part of someday?
A lot of my time is taken up by freelance work, and doing work for the company Super Sculpey that is confidential at present, but my dream project would be working with Del Toro on a film. I supply the artwork and he supplies the creepy script.
I’m working on my next series of sculptures. I don’t want to say much, but it’s a fusion dance of the ocean and religious cults.