Juan Miguel Santiago is a sculptor based in Oakland, California. Santiago’s ceramic figures, like religious idols rescued from the “House of Wax” just as the flames began to rise, combine religious and cultural associations to an effect that is eerie, attractive and personal.
Some of Santiago’s sculptures resemble religious idols, such as statuary of the Buddha or the Madonna. This resemblance traffics in associations of worship, reverence and ritual, which Santiago handles with an individual stance. His idols appear to be in a suspended state of melting, or covered in ghostly layers of whitewash. Any type of idol is covered with layers of references, associations, histories and superstitions. Such narratives adorn and comprise religions and art worlds. That which seems to cover the features of one of Santiago’s idols is the idol itself.
From St. Peter’s Basilica to the Rothko Chapel, art and religion depend, now and then, upon the ability of an artist to manipulate the material of the physical world to the point of describing some quality or condition of a metaphysical realm. Culture selects which physical stuff will become the language of metaphysical realms. Complexity can be gained when individuals choose that stuff for themselves.
In a work entitled “False Idols…Obscure Objects,” multiple figures of Ultraman, each approximately 20 inches high, appear to battle one another on the gallery floor. Ultraman is a Japanese television character from the late 1960’s. Appropriately, Ultraman is only able to spend a few minutes on Earth at a time, lest he die.
As in the work of Katharina Fritsch, the formal devices of repetition, color and scale complicate the classification of Santiago’s Ultraman idols. Certainly this work says more about the artist, and art in general, than it says about Ultraman specifically.
Much of the power of Juan Miguel Santiago’s work is the elegant way in which it reminds that any type of idol is a physical material dependent upon context found in an array of narratives, from the Old Testament to obscure television shows, for meaning and relevance.
Juan Miguel Santiago teaches ceramic art at Chabot College in Hayward, California. He recently curated an exhibition at the Basement Gallery in Oakland, California. See more of his work here: