The Layers Behind Isabel Santos’ “Flourish” Mural At ALT Philippines 2024

Photo by Excel Panlaque

Through tumultuous situations in life, Isabel Santos inspires growth and hopefulness in her ALT Philippines 2024 mural entitled, “Flourish.”

In a quiet little corner inside the halls of SMX Convention, one can find a serene resting place at Isabel Santos’ ALT Philippines 2024 exhibit entitled, “Flourish.” A direct expansion of her exhibition at Finale Art File called “An Idea of an Idea: A Memory of a Memory,” “Flourish” is a mural that features amorphous figures in shades of green and blue, with black detailing and layers upon layers of paint drips.

According to Santos, the mural began as a way of coping with her anxiety before taking an airplane flight. To calm her nerves, Santos began to draw on a piece of paper, which sparked a series of drawings in different sizes at her exhibition at Finale Art File, which featured Santos’ “anxiety-driven” artworks. But in “Flourish,” Santos inspires hopefulness. “When you have the tools to deal with your problems and your anxiety, it becomes better. In this work, the shift is towards hopefulness; that’s why it’s called “Flourish,” she says.

In an exclusive interview with Vogue Philippines, Santos shares more details about “Flourish,” her art method, and advice to aspiring artists.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Isabel Santos at Alt Philippines 2024. Photo by Excel Panlaque

With ‘Flourish,’ the concept began on a tiny piece of paper. What was the process like in transferring the idea from a piece of paper to a mural?

It was handy to have pen and paper with me, so that’s where it started. And then, as I was thinking about the show, I moved on to have bigger work on paper, bigger tips of the pen, and then bigger, bigger, and bigger. Then I realized that’s how sometimes anxiety feels—how big it feels sometimes. That’s why it became a piece on the wall because sometimes that’s how it feels. It grows from the smallest thing to something big.

In your work, you’ve applied layering and repetition to your art style and method. How is this method used in ‘Flourish’?

Aesthetically, I don’t like flat work. That’s basically why I like to do that. But then, sometimes the anxiety is your idea, and I didn’t want to be trapped by not wanting to make a mistake. When I worked on this, I just allowed myself to be free-flowing, and there’s the safety net of a layer, so if I didn’t like it, I could just put another layer on top. That’s what I like about layers; it shows you the process of how I came up with an art piece.

“Flourish” is a wall mural painted with Boysen paints. Photo by Excel Panlaque

Why are you drawn to layering and repetition?

Maybe it has something to do with being anal and anxious at the same time. I think that’s how I deal with it. And sometimes it’s more interesting to me when you look at something; there’s something else there. I like minimalist stuff also, but I don’t know if I’m that neat of a person to achieve it or if I’m brave enough to make something so simple. Right now, I’m very comfortable with this technique. The outcome is always a surprise.

With each new artwork that you produce, where do you get your ideas? How do you deal with creative blocks?

There was a time when I couldn’t think of anything. Then I realized your ideas from before could be revisited. I was telling my dad, “I still like the idea I did for a show two years ago. I think I should revisit them.” When you revisit them with more experience, you get to improve them.

Are there any new techniques that you tried out for ‘Flourish’?

It’s the first time I’ve worked purely with house paint, and it’s an interesting process. I work with acrylic, but the consistency of Boysen house paints is not the same. But it’s very fun to play with it. At first, I’m like, “Oh no!” And then when the drips were happening, I thought, “Oh, I like this. I’ll leave it like this; I’m not going to clean it up.” I really enjoyed this. If they told me to do another panel, I’d say, “Sure!” If we had the time, I would absolutely do it.”

By using shades of blues and greens, Santos evokes a sense of calmness in her mural. Photo by Excel Panlaque

Moving forward, how do you see yourself evolving as an artist in the future?

I’m very excited to still use the Boysen paints, especially because an area that I had a hard time with acrylic is the fact that no matter how much you use, it dries flat. But then, with [Boysen], I can make it a little bit chunky. I’m excited to work with texture and learn how to add other materials to my work. Because sometimes when I add other materials with acrylic, it’s just flat, and there’s a random thing there that doesn’t go with it. And I’m trying to figure out how to make them melt together. I’m excited that with this opportunity, I got another free lesson and experimented with a new medium.

What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

My advice is to choose which voices you listen to. When I was younger, people wouldn’t know that they were talking about my work when I was just there. Sometimes, it’s not going to be positive all the time. But you shouldn’t let that live in your head. What I choose to listen to are the opinions that matter to me. When an artist that I admire says something good about my work, that’s what’s going to stay, not what some random person thinks about it. As an artist, I think you have to choose who to listen to.

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