In His Photorealistic Paintings of Chicago’s Architecture and Shores, Santana Captures More than Meets the Eye

Karen Kedmey
Jul 15, 2014 2:14PM

Not to be confused with the famous guitarist and bandleader, Carlos Santana, the artist Enrique Santana, represented by Maya Polsky Gallery and also known simply by his last name, translates keen observations of his surroundings into photorealistic oil-on-canvas paintings. Though it is tempting to start and stop at Santana’s remarkable technical skill—his ability to render what he sees with a meticulous level of precision and detail—his compositions are about much more than surface appearance. Rather, as he explains: “I want to express the reality of my soul, the reality of my feelings, the interior vision that I have of...reality.”

His is a vision brimming with fascination, passion, and nostalgia for the interplay of light on water and urban architecture alike, and for the ever-changing vistas offered by the city skyline and the shifting surfaces of lakes and seas. He concentrates primarily on scenes in his adopted home of Chicago, especially as it meanders along both sides of the Chicago River, and the shores and vast expanse of Lake Michigan.

In his mid- to large-scale works, the artist plunges viewers directly into the urban fabric, or presents bird’s- or what could be described as water’s-eye-views of Chicago’s numerous architectural gems. Printers Row (2005), for example, takes viewers above this patch of its downtown, its solid structures washed in twilight’s ineffable golden glow. Contrast that with 900-910 Lake Shore Drive II (2014), from the artist’s newest series of paintings in black, white, and shades of gray, which you could be forgiven for mistaking for silver gelatin prints. Here he places viewers in the courtyard of one of the city’s famous International Style skyscrapers, with its forest of steel supports and cool, angular geometries.

Santana’s paintings of Lake Michigan are rendered more loosely and expressively than his urban scenes, matching the choppy wavelets that keep its surface animated. In Lake Michigan I, II,and III (all 2013), he presents close-up views of a segment of unobstructed shore, approached by a cresting pile-up of small waves. Man abuts nature in other works, including By the Aquarium (2014), in which a curving concrete path runs almost seamlessly along the water, a point of transition between the city and the lake that long ago captured the artist’s heart.

Karen Kedmey