Santiago Pani, An Honest Path

By Ricardo Diaque


Attacking the canvas instead of handling it carefully is a better way of letting emotion show through the creative process, losing oneself in the limbo that emotional introspection almost always implies; a very egotistical approach towards creation, although Santiago Pani has found a way to merge sociability with intimacy. The path towards truth according to Lacan “could be conceived as an extension of what takes place in supervision… a work of elaboration which we shall call communitarian rather than collective, a work of analysis, among those who have experience of it… a work of rounding up knowledge is conceivable… onto the ground of making things understood.” ( Jacques Lacan, Anxiety: The Seminar of Jacques Lacan, Cambridge, Polity Press 2016, p. 17). Lacanian psychoanalysis serves an imperative purpose within Santiago’s work, the principal of community and interpretation of emotions is quite palpable when encountering any of his pieces. In his formative years, Santiago was born into a family of artist (his father is a renowned artist and his grandfather was one of the key figures in modernist architecture), but living in a small town close to Mexico City (Tequisquiapan), Santiago’s upbringing was almost like a Rulfian novel.

Following his early years, where with the help of his family got accustomed to various artistic techniques and ways of thinking, he was hungry to learn from other contexts and disciplines, so he traveled the world to make his practice richer in context and aesthetic. In his travels he learned about loneliness against companionship, meeting new people and creating strong bonds with new friends became his most valuable trait. After deciding to take on art school in La Esmeralda, the development of his social eagerness started blurring the line between life and work, until ultimately coming to the realization that they should be conceived as one and the same thing. Still very much interested in psychology and psychoanalysis, Santiago started the body of work that is comprised of constant reinterpretations of abstract yet deceivingly figurative portraits and faces. The enormous interest that lead him to start analyzing his constructions to deeper extents mainly came from Freud and his text, The Interpretation of Dreams.

When having recurring dreams, instead of disbanding them as surrealist ideals or farfetched assumptions, sometimes the artist must express these sorts of feelings within the works. (Dreams) “are psychical phenomena of complete validity — fulfillments of wishes; they can be inserted into the chain of intelligible waking mental acts; they are constructed by a highly complicated activity of the mind.”( Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams: The complete and Definitive Text, New York, Basic Books, 2010). Contrary to the works of the abstract expressionist, who serve as an important inspiration, Santiago´s works are more figurative and vary greatly within the techniques used, for example; his series of portraits have been done using not only paint, but neon lights, wood, metal and more recently foam.

Image for post
Image for post

Another important part of Santiago´s oeuvre is the principal of teamwork within his romantic relationship with Manon van der Geest, who manages the residency where they both live. The relationship aspects of many artists tend to be an important threshold that never really crosses the thin line between life and work, but in this case it is quite the contrary. Manon has been one of the imperative figures in Santiago´s creative output because of her fair judgment and objective attitude. The most important opinion during every stage of creation is that of Manon, so in empirical practice and in every step of the way, Manon can be seen as a collaborator who expresses not only honest critiques, but who also guides the hands of Santiago when facing difficult challenges. As Roland Barthes lucidly states in A Lover´s Discourse: “Language is a skin: I rub my language against the other. It is as if I had words instead of fingers, or fingers at the tip of my words. My language trembles with desire.”(Roland Barthes, A Lover´s Discourse, New York, Hill and Wang, 2010, p. 73).

Pablo Helguera states that “All art, inasmuch as it is created to be communicated to or experienced by others, is social. Yet to claim that all art is social does not take us very far in understanding the difference between a static work such as a painting and a social interaction that proclaims itself as art — that is, socially engaged art.”(Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art: A materials and Techniques Handbook, Jorge Pinto Books, 2011, p. 1). So then, it would be fair to say that the work of very few artist is socially engaged in principal, but there is a strange relationship with sociability when taking into account that certain artist use a socially engaged approach within the production of new works and within everyday life. Since Santiago actually lives in a residency in Holland and has just opened another in Mexico, his creative process is actually socially engaged and although the end-result might be different, collaboration is quite palpable when encountering most of his pieces. Helguera calls this type of work a “Collaborative Participation”, which is when “The visitor shares responsibility for developing the structure and content of the work in collaboration and direct dialogue with the artist…”(Pablo Helguera, Education for Socially Engaged Art: A materials and Techniques Handbook, Jorge Pinto Books, 2011, p. 14). In the case of Santiago this is true because he happens to work collaboratively in every step of the way with both people who are permanent residents of his, his partner and the transitory residents who visit his studios.

In the end, there are few artist that learn to manage time within life in such poetic ways that their work can serve as a summary of human will and creativity. It may be argued that any successful artist does this, but while still alive it is still rare to find individuals who reject their ego in order to concentrate on bigger social paradigms. Today there are more and more artists who get intertwined with the idea of the solitary hermit who works in a secluded studio and rarely lets people in in order to improve anything, while at the same time it is also true that the age of successful martir-like artists is over. It is because of clever and sociable persons such as Santiago Pani that there is currently an ongoing shift in the perception of art, where the artists in no longer a super-human entity that converts objects into fortunes with the writing of a signature. It would serve anybody to learn a lesson or two in the way of better and less superficial person to person interactions and with the help of artists that use these lessons in order to create, the coin might finally flip over.

Image for post
Image for post

Mexican artist working within the fields that follow Neo-Conceptual Art. Writing critiques, statements and thoughts about others. Visit

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store