Curious Urban Murals Blur the Lines Between Real and Imagined Worlds

Santiago Rubino’s distinct street-art style highlights the range of styles in urban art.

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Jun 18 2016, 11:15am

Initia Doctrinae, 2016 (Wynwood walls, Miami, FL, 20'x14', all images courtesy of the artist)

Santiago Rubino creates work that seems like he's studied under some of contemporary art's greatest illustrators. Surprisingly, he's entirely self-taught, with a meticulous drawing technique that breathes life into otherworldly figures and forms, all bridging the gap between the tangible and ethereal.

Born in Bueno Aires, Argentina and based in Miami, Rubino applies a singular, distinctive style that often features a cast of peculiar women full of preternatural beauty, staring at viewers with hypnotic, seductive eyes while silently communicating their complex inner worlds through pursed, alien-like mouths.

In addition to these curious portraits of women, the artist also employs naturalistic motifs such as birds reminiscent of those painted by famed 19th-century ornithologist John James Audubon, who identified dozens of new avian species and famously cataloged his observations in his seminal compendium of color-plate drawings, The Birds of America. In addition, Rubino's work features architectural forms that effectively round out the artist's wide-ranging visual exploration into the liminal space between real and imagined worlds.

Divine Liturgy, 2012 (Wynwood walls, Miami, FL, 20'x14')

Long before he seriously began doing illustrations, Rubino was experimenting with street art as a high school student, working on graffiti before he ever entered into the comparatively disciplined world of fine arts. Even so, his style brings together the seemingly disparate genres of classical woodcuts and bucolic landscape painting with low-brow street art and contemporary cartoons, making it a distinct melange of all these different styles and more.

Rather than work off the cuff, Rubino says he likes to map out and plan his projects ahead of time—though he admits it hasn't necessarily always been that way. "In the past, I would just paint walls without a preliminary sketch," he says. "But now, everything I do is planned. I start with random sketches to get the idea, and then execute the final rendering." Still, the artist confesses that he doesn't entirely shy away from spontaneity and improvisation, based on chance atmospheric changes such as the weather or even his own level of energy at the time.

Preliminary sketch for Initia Doctrinae, 2016 (graphite on paper)

With regards to his style, Rubino describes his art as "illustrative and narrative." In terms of media, Rubino says he uses various types of ink as well as a combination of brushes and spray paint in his street art. The tools, however, remain just that: devices to implement whatever Rubino's vision may be at the time, and they're therefore entirely contingent on the project, first and foremost.

Rubino points out that compared to other forms of visual creative expression, urban art is for a much larger audience, making it more accessible to people who may not necessarily even be interested in art. "Whether or not they were planning to see something that day, they [see] it, and it can change their life," he says.

Minerva, 2011 (Locust Projects, Miami, FL, 22'x16')

In terms of facilitating individual expression, the very public nature of street art is what makes Rubino so intent to continue working in that genre. "The same feeling you get when you walk into a museum and see thousand year old artifacts is what inspires me to express myself creatively for a large audience that may not have the ability to visit a museum," he explains.

In the end, Rubino likes to leave any sort of thematic interpretations to his audience, preferring to focus on his own growth as an artist in the meantime. "I find inspiration through light and darkness, studying nature, and trying to understand what life is all about," he says. "Learning about ancient civilizations is fascinating. I believe that staying busy is also helpful when you’re trying to stay inspired."

Light Out of Darkness, 2016 (graphite and charcoal on paper, 20"x31")

Preliminary sketch for Initia Doctrinae, 2016 (graphite on paper)

Preliminary sketch for Initia Doctrinae, 2016 (graphite on paper)

Santiago Rubino at work

See more of Santiago Rubino’s art and follow him on Instagram.

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