Does an artist need to have thick skin?
“One … hundred … percent,” Erika Santos says in response, with the words drawn out and a laugh.
Ms. Santos, who will be a visiting artist April 24–27 in the Richmond Art Center, learned that lesson a while ago. When she was exhibiting in a gallery in Connecticut, a man wanted to make sure she would be at the opening.
“He pulled me aside and said, ‘Your work will never sell in Connecticut,’” Ms. Santos recalled. “At first, I thought that was the worst thing you could ever say to someone. But he elaborated and said, ‘The kind of work you’re making, with a lot of abstraction, a lot alternative, experimental, it is just not the market, and no one is going to tell you that to your face.’ It hurt for a couple of days. But then I started thinking about it and maybe that he meant I should be trying to find some places outside the tri-state area, and it turned into a bunch of international shows.”
Erika was grateful the man was honest with her, and it helped her learn to appreciate comments about her work, even when they aren’t complimentary. “Ever since then, I have been more open and receptive to join in a conversation when I am hovering around people talking about my work,” she said. “I'd rather they say it is the biggest piece of whatever they have ever seen than have them say nothing.”
This is how she describes her current work: “Dismantled has been an adventure and exploration of experimental photography and everything that could be possible with darkroom chemistry and beyond. It has lived on transparency paper, acrylic sheets, and now on fabric. The evolution of this body of work has been a true service of love for the material and the ability to show photography in a different light. Taking all the rules and breaking them to create something different.”
Her first experience with art that she remembers well happened when she was in sixth grade and learned Photoshop.
“From that moment on,” she said, “I knew I wanted to make art.”
She said she has been interested in photography as long as she can remember. Her grandmother first sparked her interest, buying cameras for her and telling her stories about famous photographers in Puerto Rico.
“I think of making art as a process, and I work really well when my schedule is open,” Ms. Santos said. “I make it a point to do my freelance work in the mornings so after lunch, maybe 1 or 2, I’m just going to work on my art until I can’t work anymore.”
Ms. Santos said she draws inspiration from many sources.
“I like to think of getting inspiration from everyday life,” she said. “Maybe taking a walk to clear my head because the process is not happening the way I want it to ... or from movies or from other artists. I like to be always looking at the work of others, and constantly reading.”
While here, she will be working on her art as well as working with students.