José Santos: A Mexican Artist in the United Kingdom

By Eduardo Estala Rojas

The Mexican artist José Santos (Oaxaca, 1971) arrived in London in 1997 to study art at the University of Worcester. In this exclusive interview, he tells us that he has travelled to many parts of the world and that he received a royal invitation when his work was selected for the inauguration of The Hive, Worcester’s public library. ‘The library was inaugurated by England’s Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip and my work was part of this special event,’ Santos recounts.

José Santos.

The Mexican artist José Santos. Photograph: Mexican Cultural Centre (MCC), United Kingdom.

Santos currently works for the renowned Museum of Royal Worcester. ‘Historically it is a very important place in terms of country’s ceramics and design. Part of the collection consists of design books, drawings, paintings and ceramics. It also maintains a collection of copper plaques with exquisite engravings, dating from the 18th century until present day.’

‘I contribute to the rescue of these designs, many of which now need restoration rather than just cleaning; unfortunately, some are now beyond repair. Their restoration is very important as the designs end up being part of table pieces for the world’s royalty, so you can begin to imagine their quality, technique and artistic worth. It is an honour to participate in the recovery of the first series of 10 engravings,’ Santos explains.

In his opinion, the art made in the United Kingdom is amongst the best in the world. ‘Here you find a selection of political, controversial, aesthetic, surreal, classic and contemporary art created using different, innovative artistic media. I have had the opportunity to travel around Europe and other parts of the world. In the United Kingdom one finds a great diversity of cultures, theories and philosophical approaches by artists from all around the world that come to settle in this country, making this an exceptional place.’

He also says that to make artistic investigations pushes you to explore, travel and read: ‘Not only in search of truth, but also to discover a unique world that you have created. Why? Because it’s here where you reason, it’s here where you doubt and form your own concepts. To be an artist you should be original and find yourself through the process of doubts and answers within your mental capacity and then convert it into the best medium that you know how.’

He reflects on how he got involved in artistic practice: ‘Ever since I was little, the smell of paper, chalk or any material has been a way to communicate a moment of imagination and creativity that naturally passes through the mind. The walls of my room were my first canvases and they also resulted in my first lessons of punishment. Throughout my years in education I was in the bottom of the class; I never spoke or participated. But my notebooks were always filled drawings of my classmates’ profiles.’

He says that the artists who inspire him are María Izquierdo, Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera. ‘Mexico offers impressive artistic talent. It has a very rich historical and artistic culture and as a Mexican I feel privileged to have been born into a land full of inspiration.’

His work has been exhibited in Mexico and the United Kingdom, in books, museums, galleries, and public spaces, including advertisements for products. ‘I want to think that the power of exhibiting in this country is part of my contribution to Mexican art. What I would love is the opportunity to share and take back this knowledge and these experiences to Mexico. I give talks at the Museum of Royal Worcester about engravings and why they emerge in different periods and influences,’ José Santos adds.

He urges Mexican artists to work hard, ‘to value their work and exhibit it, while being critical of themselves, which is very important. There is a lot of inspiration to be had from great artists, from nature, from the unnatural. However, one must know how to make a positive change in one’s artistic philosophy, and that only emerges with experience. So go forward and do not be afraid to experiment with other artistic media,’ concludes Santos.

Translated to English by Ellen Donnison.

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Eduardo Estala Rojas is a Mexican poet, journalist and cultural advisor. He has worked as a correspondent in different posts for various international press agencies, as well as a critical and cultural consultant specialising in Mexico, the United States and the United Kingdom. He has obtained international awards and acknowledgement for his cultural and artistic labour. He is founder and director-general of the Mexican Cultural Centre (MCC), United Kingdom.

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