The Art That Connects – OutSmart Magazine

WellThe striking images of Filipino-American artist Saul Jerome E. San Juan are on display this month at the Montrose Art Gallery. Figurish, a collection of thematic works by several artists that includes the San Juan Blue-Eyed Men collection, is open to the public through March 12 at Bill Arning Exhibitions.

Art has been an integral part of San Juan’s life and the way he expresses himself since early childhood. “I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember,” he says. “From my earliest drawings of volcanoes and airplanes, making art has given me the satisfaction of controlling what happens within the confines of my composition, limited only by my knowledge, imagination, sense of propriety and time.”

After moving from the Philippines to the United States at the age of 14, art became even more important to the artist as he began teaching high school art classes. “Since I changed careers [after] many satisfying years in architecture, I have been delightfully surprised at how much inspiration I also find in empowering young artists to express their humanity eloquently in visual art.

San Juan’s artwork may seem conventional at first glance, but his works are much more complex once you peel back the layers. If you ask San Juan to describe his portraits and landscapes, he will point to John Singer Sargent, a famous Anglo-American painter.

“At first glance, my art, like Sargent’s, appears more conservative than much contemporary art, being representational in translating three-dimensional reality into two-dimensional interpretation through careful observation of proportion and visual phenomena such as value and color,” he says. “Expressionism and novelty interfere with my undermining what I perceive to be others’ proud feelings of moral and aesthetic superiority—senses of superiority that I admit to indulging myself as I choose how to make art.”

The Lone Star State has been an inspiration for San Juan lately, which is evident in his landscape pieces. “I draw inspiration from summer, the rivers of the Texas Hill Country, country music, contemporary art, art history and more,” he notes.

“My landscape paintings are done on location and in one breath, so they are definitely a response to the scene of the moment. I can enjoy the wonder of the place, made more precious by the limited time. Spontaneity and pthe physical immersion of my landscape work is a foil for the extremely time-consuming artifice of my studio work.

San Juan also enjoys experimenting with other media and finding additional ways to tell stories that spark audience conversations and emotional responses.

“My studio work, which is featured in the Houston show, involves the accumulation of visual material through the Internet and photo shoots,” he explains. “Then I go through everything and experiment to create pieces that I can enjoy working on for days. It allows me to speak to my audience politely and elegantly, justifying my indulgence in raw material.”

San Juan believes that art is more important now than ever because people are looking for a way to escape. He appreciates how art allows people to experience a shared connection with each other.

“Paradoxically, in a world that is hyper-connected with instant communication, empathy between people is easily lost,” he says. “I feel that great art has the ability to slow us down and make us empathize with other people—to understand what makes them go on and, more broadly, to remind us what it means to be human, to appreciate our shared feelings that we are alive through suffering and pleasure, even though our technology has largely desensitized us and made us shrink from the hauntingly beautiful mess that is the wondrous complexity of existence.

San Juan hopes that his works will spark dialogue and many thoughtful conversations among those who see his works.

“For me, my art comes alive in dialogue with the audience and the feelings, experiences and preconceptions they bring,” he says. “Part of my pleasure in making art is the expectation that others will see it and be somehow affected by it, even for a minute.”

What: Figure art exhibition
When: Until March 12
Where: Bill Arning Exhibitions, 604 W. Alabama
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