Martin-Jan van Santen was born in 1968 and graduated from the art school Constantijn Huygens in Kampen, Holland (currently Artez in Zwolle), changed his residence several times within the country, but finally returned to his hometown Kampen, where he lives and works as an artist. After a ten-year career working as an animator, cartoonist, and director, he decided in 2007 to move into painting full-time, something he wanted for many years.
Besides his nudes and cityscapes, van Santen also paints portraits on commission. Color and light are very important elements in his work and consequently he has been called an impressionist, or neoimpressionist. His way of painting, however — the "big gesture" — leans toward expressionism.
He aims to make his paintings odes to beauty. The painting must be able to "breath by itself," not only be a reference to reality, his source of inspiration.
His next exhibition is September 14 - October 20, 2012, Galerie Thomas Fuchs, Reinsburgstrasse 68A, 70178 Stuttgart.
The “big gesture” in your work is so beautiful. Can you tell us more about that? Are there other artists that inspired you with their own brush work?
"The big gesture" is of course something that emerged from painting itself. I'm not aware I'm doing "the big gesture". It's just the way I paint. I cannot do it another way. I work in a very concentrated way, which takes a lot of time. Sadly it doesn't often show in the end result — people think I'm doing my work in a few hours, because of my '"big gestures". But it takes a lot of effort to make it look that way.
Of course my style is influenced by other artist I adore and admire Carravagio, Velasquez, Sargent, and Sorolla, and the contemporary painters like Christian Schoeler and Jeffrey Larson. Some painters I really admire concerning their use of color are Henri Martin, Emile Claus and Henri Le Sidaner, not very famous, but I love their work.
The young men seem to be very unaware of being observed and unselfconscious. Do you work from photography? Do you work from live models?
I use a lot of live models, but only for a few hours in which I take photos. The painting is always from photos. I need to be alone when I paint, so I can concentrate on the job.
The fact that they don't "act out" on camera is precisely what I'm looking for. Of course, a confident look-at-me-model is nice too, but those guys are photographed and painted all the time. I like the silent world, in which they seem to be in thoughts, daydreaming, or just staring. I love staring. It takes some time to get the right photo though. I work from photos, but it's not simply by blowing them up, and painting them on canvas. During the process of painting colors change, compositions are adapted, in the end the photo is merely a starting point.
How old were you when you realized you were an artist and can you tell us about your first attempts at using young men for your figure work?
I've been painting and drawing for as long as I can remember, but at first I thought I was going to be a cartoonist. For a long time I made animated cartoons and comic books, and I thought that was it. But at a certain point, I got fed up with producers, broadcasting stations, and chasing after my money. I decided to do something bold: Painting! Which was a crazy idea really, because I had to start all over again. But I tried it and it's starting to work out very nice. I'm not rich, but I love what I'm doing, and really don't want to go back to my old profession.
I started painting the male body 5 years ago, exactly the time that I started painting. I thought What do I like most? What do I find really beautiful? Almost automatically I came out with the male body. My first attempts were very boring pictures of nice looking models, but soon I started to look for the beauty inside those pictures. I asked myself What is it, that makes this body so beautiful? What makes this model so fascinating? And then I try to capture it. It's all very strange to talk about, because it's more a feeling than really understanding what I'm doing. I hope it makes sense.
You can see more of his work at BoysandBricks.com.