Over the course of her life, Roseta Santiago has pursued careers as varied as graphic designer, interior designer, builder, and mural painter, all of which inform her joyful, high-energy approach to painting. Fulfilling a lifelong dream upon her arrival in Santa Fe in 2000, she took up oil painting with such dedication and fervor that a mere two years later she was exhibiting her work in galleries and enjoying the kind of acclaim many painters spend decades trying to achieve. The same curiosity about the world around her that led her to such a broad array of successful undertakings now spurs her fascination with the artifacts and Native cultures of the Southwest, and she expresses that fascination via finely wrought paintings in oil that evoke an unseen realm of spirit that animates the figures and artifacts she so reverently depicts.
Santiago’s paintings reveal a subtle narrative arc and serve as a kind of meditation on the quiet mysteries that define a moment in time or a sweeping era. Moving from still life to figurative painting to lyrical expression, she revels in the natural settings and serendipitous placement of objects that take her work beyond the literal to a place at once inspired and inspiring.
“I like to paint old, worn, lived-in things,” she says. “The objects are not anonymous; they all belong to someone who made them in the real world. I’m exploring the beauty in the mystery and the mystery in the beauty, delving into whatever that essence is that drives artists to create.”
In her newest body of work, Witness, she exhorts the viewer to “bear witness, to really see,” as she puts it. She adds a touch of impressionism to the otherwise realistic scenes she creates, and plays with light and shadow while rendering edges loosely to give her paintings a dreamlike quality. “Pueblo Shadows” displays this skill in manipulating light to dramatic effect; the graphically rendered figure is a striking presence, with a facial expression that hints at complex emotions and a life filled with challenges. The still life “Time Travelers III” defies the inert nature of painted objects by imbuing them with a strong sense of the lives lived in connection with these things-well-used moccasins, a bit of a pipe, and utilitarian pottery.
As one studies Santiago’s paintings, stories begin to unfold, allowing the viewer to bear witness to the enduring nature of culture and spirit in an otherwise transient world.