I write this article, and I am thinking of grit, determination, manifestation, sheer will, and a healthy sense of humor. I’m thinking of artist Cesar Santos. In many ways, his story represents the American dream, yet it’s his perseverance that sticks with you after meeting him. Reminding you that one’s dreams tend to become a reality when you work towards them.
Coming from Cuba at the age of 12 and living in Hialeah with his parents and sister, to some, it may seem he was not handed much. What he does hold, and I admire, is his heartfelt appreciation. Cesar Santos’ outlook, optimism and never-ending ability to see the upside to life is indeed an inspiration. The hardest thing for me as a writer is to condense it in one article. The truth is, I could have written a small booklet on his philosophy. He is one of a kind.
I spent an afternoon with Cesar at his house in Miami. He’s the only person I know with a lifeguard stand in his backyard, and doesn’t live on the beach! His home is as eclectic as his technique. Old masters paintings with Star Wars tanks and tv’s from the ’70s. What surrounds him are juxtaposed smart objects with a red velvet couch that sits atop a shiny, acid treated gunmetal cement floor.
He gives his wife credit for the Italian influences in the home as she is from Genova. His decor very much reflects his technique at times, old meets new, which he calls “syncretism”.
Challenging conformity, defying trends, and armed with firm conviction and remarkable talent, Cesar is creating his own Paradigms.
As a young man coming from a family of Cuban immigrants, Cesar had a profound sense of responsibility witnessing all of the sacrifices his parents made for him and his sister. He respectfully honors this, as it looms in the back of his mind, unbeknownst to him he is touching the back of his head as he recalls it, reflecting. The way his demeanor reflects as he speaks on the topic, he should have touched his heart. You can feel the love and gratitude without words. He knew he had to make it. He knew it was a stretch even to be an artist, let alone drop out of college to pursue his passion, defying conformity but it’s just the beginning.
In school, he never adapted to computers. It wasn’t part of his “Cuban Hialeah” culture. He had the opportunity to have an office job, which he was grateful for but it proved challenging, as he was dyslexic and felt mocked by his peers. He learned photoshop, yet he just felt like he didn’t fit in. All great stories begin with some pain, and his great story was in the making. He did not sink in despair or make excuses; he was just warming up!
“I decided I liked art. It is the only thing I can rule. I can build a fire there.”
A chance encounter in the Hialeah library changed his life. He was looking at art books and working on his sketches. A man walking past saw his drawings and said, “You like to do art like that? There’s a school in Italy for art like that.” and showed him the website for the academy. He sent emails and was ultimately accepted. Fate had stepped in.
With the support and blessings from his parents, he moved to Italy, attending the prestigious Angel Academy in Florence. He worked and took vital instruction. He further developed his already impressive technique. He knew he had done something great the first drawing he completed. He also knew he had limited funds and worked hard and graduated faster than any other student at the academy, being vigilant of his parents’ contributions and dedicated to his craft.
After graduating, he went back to Hialeah and told his parents he needed two months to create a body of work. He thrust himself into creating it and then he hit the pavement. With his art under his arms, he would approach people at art fairs and show them the painting in his arms, or on his phone. Some would connect him to others. He began networking.
Trying his hand at theatre,commercials, and tv, he soon got bored with the wait that comes in these professions. He found himself frustrated, depending on other people and their schedules were irritating to him. He left, and he joined a band. He soon found himself in the same situation. “Waiting for the light and sound people. I decided I like art. It is the only thing I can rule. I can build a fire there.”
“I was suffering in a sense because I wanted to do portraiture and my teachers were telling me, That’s in the past. Take a photo if you need a portrait; if you need realism. I said, where is the freedom for me to learn what has been called art for hundreds of years? Suddenly, you change the definition, and now I cannot do it anymore?”
There was a hurricane looming towards Miami. While helping prepare for the storm at a well known gallery in Miami, Caesar engaged and created a rapport with the owner who asked Cesar to come back the next day with some of his pieces. The result was his first contract. The second day his art was on the wall, it sold. He had a $3000 check in his hand. He and his parents were thrilled. He felt a big responsibility to make it grow. His friends told him he should “buy a jet ski.” He recalls, with a laugh.
Unsure what to do with the money, he went to the only logical person to ask, the man who could afford the painting. This intelligent decision making is what makes Cesar, Cesar. Humble enough to know he doesn’t know it all, and wise enough to know when in doubt, ask the smartest person in the room.
While he paints he enjoys listening to audio from the likes of Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie and other motivating speakers. When he wants to do something, he understands with a profound realization the importance of manifestation, clear goals the freedom we have in the US to pursue our dreams, compared to his origins and is thankful for it.
His well-liked videos were a blessing in disguise. Facebook banned him for posting a nude painting. So, he and his wife (his editor and videographer extraordinaire) went and got all the equipment they needed to make videos. Within a week, his wife was editing, and the VLOGS took off. Which he prefers, because seeing the videos in place of a picture on social media captivates one’s attention more. You can see the size of the work. His positivity is contagious, and people love his energy. The popularity and the experience has toughened his skin a little with some comments he would get. “I realized sooner than later to ignore anything that doesn’t contribute to my path. I could have gotten affected by that, but one thing I have done was study success parallel to studying art. Because I realized you could be an amazing artist and have a horrible life or career and you can be successful and paint horribly.”
“From my end, it’s not only a responsibility to create good quality art but to also have a brand that is coherent with my truth.
He explains, “I think that is why people follow you at some point. I believe it’s that conviction in you. That non-stop, I’m going to do this, and you can say what you want, it’s cool, I like it. That’s catchy. If you do it enough, they start to believe in you. This is how you make believers out of the people that were not believers. Most famous artists were like that. Picasso used to impose his work. At first, it was ridiculed, and look what happened.”
Working with Multiple galleries in the US and a steady stream of shows, Cesar has had his work exhibited at the Beijing Museum in China, a painting in the permanent collection in the contemporary art museum in Sicily, National Gallery of Costa Rica and a steady stream of invitations to do shows all over the World.
Tell us what you would like people to get out of your teaching videos?CS: I think my thing is that classical art can be fun and should not be intimidating. I believe that is the main message that I want to bring to people. The way I present myself, would be for a skateboard guy to look at it and think its cool too! I don’t know anything about skateboarding, but I can see a video of someone passionately talking about it, and fall in love with it at that moment. I don’t want them to go to museums and say, my God, what is this? I want them to say; this is someone having fun painting. That has a cost because the people that take pride in having this classical atmosphere disagree, I break it for them so then they don’t like it. They can be super stiff and close-minded. I’m me: I’m Cuban, I’m not from Europe, I’m not from the cold. What am I going to do? Keep it Zesty! (laughs)
Where do you see yourself going now?
CS- I’ve been trying to find a language with my paintings. A special language that connects to who I am. It is so difficult to do that. My art is a result of what I’ve been taught. The ultimate thing would be to find you, because even with syncretism, once I use other peoples art, I know I’m playing with a clever idea, but I know I’m using other people’s art as a reference. Even though it is my way of combining it, I still feel like it’s not all me. I am focusing on developing a series of art that reveals my passion for sketchbooks because I’ve always had sketchbooks. I like working my sketchbooks. Now I am creating a series of paintings called “Pages” using linen because it is raw. I want to show the process which reflects my work in the sketchbook.
One thing we know for certain, no matter what’s next for Cesar, he will be playing to the beat of his own drum!
You can visit his website at:
Watch Cesar in action by visiting his youtube channel