A conversation with Vanessa Gully-Santiago

Marialuisa Pastò interviews Vanessa Gully-Santiago

In the contemporary times we’re in, uncertainty came to play a dominant role in art.
Thus, it has become essential – if not imperative – to explore it through the eyes of its legitimate protagonists, the artists. 

Wrapped in a dark atmosphere, Vanessa Gully-Santiago’s figures are caught in an unspoken gesture.

Suspended in a void of a bottomless abyss, they explore the vulnerability of their own interior landscapes, while scenes of everyday experiences infused with intimacy and alienation are mixed with a deep sense of submission and abuse, often by using satire as a code.

In doing that, we are invited to delve into the unconfessed urges that lie hidden in the narratives of their private sphere, triggering a silent game of gazes that forces the viewer into implicit voyeurism.

As a matter of fact, her work reveals an indisputable ability to translate the intangibility of a universal and collective subconscious into the embodiment of her isolated subjects.

NDA, 30 x 36 inches, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2020

Marialuisa Pastò: Having had the pleasure of working with you in the past, I’d like to talk a little bit about the themes underlying your work first.

Many of the female characters of your artworks are deprived of their own power of control. Framed within an office setting, they often become silent and vulnerable protagonists of workplace violence scenes, critically alluding masculine archetypes still ingrained in our society.

What are your thoughts about inequalities women face on a daily basis in the contemporary world? In your opinion, how could acts of abuse be challenged and prevented, wherever possible?

Vanessa Gully-Santiago: I think, as you said, sexism and misogyny are ingrained in most cultures around the world and throughout history.  It would be difficult to change, unless all of society made a major shift in their beliefs about gender roles and attitudes towards women.  Men would have to be willing to give up a lot of power and people who have power rarely give it up. 

I don’t know how something so ingrained can ever be totally eradicated, but there could be legislation put in place that could help women in certain areas.  Changes like that require effective activism, which requires unity.  There are a lot of women out there who side with men and put down women who speak up about discrimination.  It makes me sad to see that, because if we stood together, we could make real progress and I think men would benefit too. Which I think is the other important factor in bringing about change- getting men to see that they have a lot to gain by treating women as equals.

Chairs, 16 x 20 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2019

Marialuisa Pastò: Considering your brilliant educational background in Art, what task do you think the academic system should fulfill in these trying times?

Vanessa Gully-Santiago: As we live in a moment of increasing isolation, services that facilitate a sense of community could be beneficial in academia.  Being face-to-face and creating an environment where there is open and vulnerable communication can help students in difficult times.  

Defaulted, 11 x 14 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2019

Amazon, 48 x 60 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2020

Marialuisa Pastò: It is unquestionable that New York is the epicenter of the global art system. Although several markets – such as China and other more emerging ones – have become established worldwide, playing a decisive role in the international art market, NY continues to hold a premium position in promotion and sales of art.

Being a New York based artist, what do you remark on how its scene is evolving generally and how it has changed after the beginning of the pandemic?

Vanessa Gully-Santiago: I can’t really speak to the market in terms of it changing the art scene.  I am not a very market-oriented artist, but I do consider myself part of the art community in New York and have a large group of acquaintances here.  I try to see as many shows as I can and even in difficult times, when some galleries close, new spaces always open in their place.  New York is a great place to see a lot of art and to meet other artists, which is why I love it here.  

After the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t see the same people out all the time that I used to, so I had to start making new friends.  I ended up meeting a lot of people who’ve lived in the city for many years but who I never got to know until this year.  It’s exciting to realize how many artists there are to connect with locally.  Even if all your friends move away or stop hanging out, you can always find new people. 

Trolls, 24 x 30 inches, acrylic and oil on canvas, 2020

Marialuisa Pastò: What do you think about collecting today?

Collectors – among others – have been called to play a crucial role now more than ever: it’s important for artists to feel supported by them, that means, in addition to collecting artworks, occasionally contributing to sponsor exhibitions, in some cases covering production costs etc…

Do you feel properly supported? Do you want to say a few words about your experience?

Vanessa Gully-Santiago: As I said previously, I have not yet received very much consistent support from the art market, so it’s difficult for me to talk about the role of collectors in my experience as an artist. 

I have been able to exhibit my work in many artist-run project spaces and in some emerging galleries over the years.  So, I try to focus on the fact that I can share my work with other artists and the public and less on whether my work sells.  While sales are nice and it’s always been a dream of mine to make a living off my art, for my own mental well-being, it is better for me to enjoy the creative process without any expectation of external acknowledgement. It’s not in my control if people want to invest in my work or not, so what’s the point of thinking about it.  

One thing I’ve started to do, and many other artists are doing this now too, is to sell drawings on Instagram to other artists and people who work in the arts.  This allows me to generate income independently, so I don’t have to depend on galleries or collectors for all my support.  It also feels good to place my work with other artists and people who make modest incomes, because art doesn’t just have to be for the extremely wealthy.

Unseen, 42 x 48 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2020

ShopVac, 48 x 60 inches, acrylic on canvas, 2020