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Leather Landscapes as Self-Portraits of Fetish and Devotion

In her first LA solo show, Tamara Santibañez presents her latest series of large-scale fetish studies at Slow Culture Gallery.
October 6, 2016, 3:10pm
Tamara Santibañez - Landscape II (Massif) - 40" x 60" Oil on canvas, 2016. Image courtesy of Slow Culture Gallery

Still lifes of objects and materials that often fall within the scope of BDSM culture take the form of self-portraits in the intimate and revealing works of Tamara Santibañez. At first glance, her interests seem to lie in representation, but imbued in her works are the personal narratives of her own possessions. Upon deeper exploration, her excruciatingly time-intensive works show a weighted practice of devotion; a process through which she is able to deepen her own understanding of her relationship to the objects and herself. In her first Los Angeles solo show, the Brooklyn-based multimedia artist presents a series of large-scale explorations of leather as landscapes, focusing on unrecognizable parts of the form. By separating the material from its intended purpose, her departure into abstraction depicts an even more intimate exploration of this second skin.

The Creators Project caught up with Santibañez to discuss her process and preparation for her upcoming solo show at Slow Culture Gallery in LA’s Chinatown. Her latest body of work has evolved into a material study, maintaining her dedication to the objects and elements that permeate through her creative output. “The abstract nature of the compositions is new but the subject matter is not,” she tells us. “These paintings feel like a natural next step in the evolution of the themes I'm exploring. I'm focusing on ways to hopefully expand the reading of the works. With the more still life object paintings I've done, people tend to get hung up on a more literal interpretation of the image in front of them rather than delve into the larger ideas of power and identity.”

The seven large-scale canvases in the show depict close-ups of leather objects, rendered in oil. These are Santibañez's largest works to date, representing a return to oil painting that she began last winter. Santibañez explains, “I've had the idea in mind to paint these close ups of leather for a while, the works in this show all came from photographs I took of my own leather jacket as it was being worn, or as it was laid out and sculpted into folds and peaks.”

The consistency of Santibañez’s work is a reflection of her relationship to the subject matter, with or without its associations and connotations. “I find the material to be so loaded—it's a skin first and foremost, secondly imbued with an endless amount of cultural significance,” she explains. “Within the visual language of style and fashion, I would consider leather to be its own dialect. And it's not just leather, these same themes carry over to other materials and accessories… People react so strongly to objects as symbols. […] Like if my body dissolved and all that was left was my hair and tattoos and nails, everyone would still recognize me.”

“Full disclosure, I have a leather fetish,” Santibañez admits. “The paintings on some level are my effort to communicate an emotional relationship to the material. They can be seen any number of ways including as pure form and texture, but I can't deny that aspect of my obsession with the material. I'm sometimes reluctant to state it that bluntly when talking about the paintings because I don't want them to be reduced to ‘it's sexual.’ They're so much more than that.”

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Tamara Santibañez studio, image courtesy of CJ Parel

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Tamara Santibañez possessions, image courtesy of CJ Parel

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Landscapes runs through October 22 at Slow Culture Gallery in LA. For more info, please visit Slow Culture Gallery.

Tamara Santibañez is a resident at Saved Tattoo in Brooklyn. More of her work can be seen online on the artist's website.

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