ARTIST SALINDA SANTIAGO
Interviewed by Jason Jenkins
Jason: What were your earliest artistic influences and how did they lead you into a creative life? An artist’s style grows over time - would you say your initial and core influences have as well?
Salinda: Well, my initial and core influences have grown over time. My earliest artistic influences were cartoons and graffiti - I used to draw a lot of that when I was younger. I’m not exactly sure what led me into a creative life because it seems as if it has always been there as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, my creativity went from drawing the cartoons I saw, practicing observation skills, to all the technical stuff I wanted to learn more of. Over time, my style changed a lot. I can't remember the last time I drew a cartoon. When I was a teen, I started to draw palm trees, I was drawing them everywhere. I’m from New York but the thought of a sunny pretty palm tree was calling to me. I wasn't thinking about my art making process at that time, I was just making whatever felt right.
That was probably the beginning of when I started to use images of nature to reflect my inner thoughts, emotions, and personal philosophies.
Jason: What influenced your design for the Community Arts Installation at 11 Park Drive in Wyandanch and how do you find it relates to the history of Wyandanch?
Salinda: Nature, music, and tranquility was the first thing that came to mind for the Wyandanch design. My design has a lot of different aspects in it, but it relates mostly to the history of Wyndanch through nature. I focused on paying homage to the Native American Chief Wyandanch, and for anyone who knows music - the legendary MC Rakim is originally from [Wyandanch] as well. Chief Wyandanch and Rakim were the original inspirations, plus - of course - its natural landscape. I was imagining what the land of Wyandanch must have really looked like back then and what would be here now without modern development and construction.
It’s really something to think about what the natural landscape looks like vs. what humans can create on it. My vision was to provide a nature design that not only pays homage to that history but also can currently represent that time and space.
L-R: Liz Mirarchi, BACCA Executive Director; Salinda Santiago, Artist; Jason Jenkins, BACCA Programs Coordinator; Shawn Cullinane, BACCA Board President
Jason: Salinda, I see you as a multidisciplinary artist working primarily in painting, ceramics, and poetry. In what way do you feel you were able to utilize these three realms of creativity in the project’s design?
Salinda: Well, I definitely utilized the painting aspect. It was the quickest way to visually convey what I wanted to represent. All the colors I used while painting were specifically chosen to create a relaxing and calming environment. I diluted and mixed acrylics to create a watercolor effect - I was thinking "light and airy" like nature. The images I chose were all inspired by the native land, like the eastern bluebird and marsh grass. This landscape is very subtle in color and it's not extremely vibrant. So, I wanted to make sure when I painted my design the colors reflected the native landscape .
Although I didn't utilize words or the ceramic medium, technically in this design they all do correlate. It's mostly because of the way I feel about these three different mediums, the way I work with them and the way they speak to me.
When I was creating this design, it felt like music, just like when I write poetry, it's just like nature, it has natural movement. To me nature is poetry, it's like a painting and it's also the process of working with ceramics. All three of these mediums are very different, but they are also the same, in terms of movement and flow. For example a tree, a flower and grass are all so different right, but they are also similar.
Jason: In collaboration with the metal fabricators, your design was taken through multiple creative stages. How did knowing that your initial design would be transformed change your creative process? I’m also curious to know about the level of creative freedom you found collaborating with the fabrication team.
Salinda: Well the level of creative freedom I found was very broad in the initial stages. I was able to create whatever came to me in that time, and working with the metal fabricators was an awesome experience. I have never painted on metal before, I wasn't sure how my “nature” design would still have an element of movement and feel natural.
Knowing my initial design would be transformed changed my creative process in which I had the opportunity to learn something new. I was able to observe a whole new medium.
I really love how my idea went from paint and paper into large metal pieces. I was in awe, I think the metal material definitely spoke to the sculptor in me.
I was able to observe how my design started in my head, I laid it down with basic paint and paper, then into the digital realm, and finished with the large fabricated pieces. I was able to witness and be a part of a whole new creative process. It was definitely an inspiring experience.
Jason: I understand that you give private lessons at your studio ArtMixtures in Deer Park. How does teaching fit into how you personally define yourself as an artist? Has this project influenced how you will approach teaching your students?
Salinda: I define myself as an artist who creates artwork based on my inner reflections. The subjects I use are symbolic visuals of my thoughts, feelings, and perspectives, which are visually demonstrated to convey a deeper meaning of the world around me. My message is one of perseverance, gratitude, and tenacity.
I think teaching fits into that because I try to encourage my students to create based on their own unique styles and interests.
It's an interesting process to be able to witness student artists at every level think about their art and what they want to create. Especially the little ones, they just jump right in without any judgment and just make stuff. That's most inspiring.
This project has solidified my teaching as a student-based philosophy. I always tell my students I like to draw birds but they don't have to, some of my students like to draw snakes, I mean would I want to see a public outdoor snake? Lol probably not, but I will definitely appreciate an artist who decided to create that based on their own personal criteria.
Jason: In addition to this project, do you think Wyandanch and The Town of Babylon have the potential to become a new art destination? What do you see something like that looking like?
Salinda: Yes absolutely, I can definitely see Wyandanch and the Town of Babylon becoming a new art destination. I would love to see more art displayed throughout the community. With some outdoor sculptures, I’ve seen a few murals, I definitely think there is so much more we can do. I am a big believer that a space creates a mood. We as creators can definitely create a great art community. Especially through the cold gray winter days, outdoor art will set the stage for a welcoming vibrant arts and culture environment.
Jason: To close the interview, what advice and guidance do you have now have for someone (especially a younger student) who wants to get into public arts?
Salinda: The best advice I can give to my students is to create from the heart. That might sound a little cheesy or cliche, but I feel that. If we just create from what is inside of us then we are creating authentically, and that is meaningful no matter what. Even if the visual images have been seen a million times - I mean how many times do we see birds, right? - but, for me, birds convey the meaning of tranquility. So, for anyone who wants to get into public arts – just create what you feel is true to you.