This Florida-based artist paints still lifes in oil that hint at a human presence.
|Trio on Marble Block
2007, oil, 36 x 48.
All artwork this
the artist unless
by Naomi Ekperigin
For 15 years, Arturo Samaniego’s artistic aspirations took a backseat to his computer hardware business, which was a far cry from his original plans. From his first art classes at the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, in Mexico, as a teenager, Samaniego knew he wanted to be an artist. “My heart was never in the business world,” he says. “I was always frustrated that my artwork came second. I felt I could produce much better work if I could devote my full energy to it.” Finally, in 2002 he decided to change professions and dedicate himself to pursuing a fine-art career. This included a move to Naples, Florida, where the artist set up a studio where he produces work and teaches small groups.
|Lean On Me
24 x 12. Collection
After years of figurative and portrait work, Samaniego has developed a style and a set of themes that suit his interest, and allow him to flex his creative muscles. “Over the last two years my subject matter has become what I call ‘contemporary still life,’” the artist explains. “I am always inspired and challenged by the representational tradition of realism in oil painting, and I am equally intrigued by the energy and freedom of contemporary art. For this reason, my still lifes employ a careful execution in a realistic style, and also combine contemporary compositional elements, such as close-ups, sparse setups, clean lines, and the like.”
|Bartletts and Callas
2007, oil on linen, 24 x 12.
Samaniego finds setting up his still life, to be the most difficult part of the process, as he is working to combine all these elements into a unified composition. “I stage everything in my studio, playing with different lighting and element arrangements, and photographing the variations.” At this point, he usually ends up with several dozen pictures and then selects those that best fit his original idea. He works from life until the natural elements such as fruit and flowers begin to spoil, necessitating the use of reference photographs. “The first stage is the most challenging as far as creativity is concerned,” he says, “because I am trying to display the elements of a classical style while still trying to keep it fresh and contemporary.” Despite these difficulties, it is this part of the process that Samaniego likes most; in fact, it is what prompted him to work with still lifes in the first place. “As an artist, still life painting provides me with total control over the mood, lighting, composition, and overall look of the piece,” he says, which is not always the case when working with figures.
|The Illusionist (Self-Portrait)
2007, oil, 60 x 48.
The artist begins on a pre-toned canvas, which he creates by mixing acrylic paint (usually an earth color) into his gesso. Over this, he blocks in the large shapes using vine charcoal sticks, which he finds easy to erase when he needs to make corrections. “My pieces develop in layers on oil paint,” he explains, “with the first layer being opaque and done in middle tones. Over this first layer I apply transparent glazes and opaque scumbles, building up the color and definition. Some passages are done wet-in-wet, others are not.
2006, oil on wood, 60 x 30.
“I feel my compositions are such that, even though no figure is present, the elements and arrangements hint at the human touch indirectly,” the artist says. In such pieces as Lean on Me and Trio on Marble Block, this is evident in the precarious position of the fruit. It seems to be in motion, full of energy and personality. And, although the viewer knows a pear could not balance itself so carefully, Samaniego makes the viewer believe there is a dynamic life behind his subject matter. “This is the function of the artist,” he explains. “To create illusions that help us understand, and enhance what we call reality.” This can be seen at work in his piece Self-Portrait (The Illusionist). In this painting, the pomegranate is not on the canvas–instead it materializes in midair, as the artist faces the viewer. We see that Samaniego relishes in his power as an artist, combining realistic and contemporary techniques that allow him to create the kind of work that enhances both our perceptions and his own.
Naomi Ekperigin is the editorial assistant for American Artist.