Santiago Michalek: Annual Solo Show, “Collective” focuses on the artist’s classic vintage transportation theme, which began with his personal connection to the Volkswagen. While Volkswagen buses and bugs are the subject that propelled the Utah artist into a full-time painting career, his imagery has since expanded to include anything from fire engines to gypsy wagons. Santiago Michalek’s work is meant to unearth the nostalgia and emotional connection we attach to these modes of movement, even though up until recently his work was devoid of any figurative presence. Even without a figure, the human condition is big part of Santiago Michalek’s narratives and allows viewers to insert themselves into the story or recall their own personal memories. “The Volkswagen was my connection,” says the artist. “But everybody has their own experience, whether it’s a tractor, fishing boat or steam engine. Now I paint these things and I instantly have a connection with someone I’ve never met before.”
Even before he began incorporating the human form into his work, Santiago Michalek considered himself a figurative artist. “These machines have a soul and personality themselves,” he explains, likening his industrial paintings to human portraiture. In this year’s annual solo show however, Santiago Michalek further establishes the human connection in pieces like “The Moment” and “VW Welder,” which uses the figure to poignantly illustrate the nostalgic relationship between human and machine.
Santiago Michalek’s familiarity and personal association with Volkswagens began in the early 2000s when he started his own business restoring vintage beetles and buses. Santiago Michalek’s self-taught hobby that was sparked by simple curiosity eventually grew into an ambitious full time job. “I got really good at it and was passionate about it,” he says of restoring and selling the vehicles. “But I was always painting. What I wanted to do before I could even talk was be an artist.” When Santiago Michalek transitioned into a full-time art career, he brought his love of Volkswagens with him as well as the passionate devotion of the car’s owners he had connected with over the years in his shop. “A Volkswagen has a 25 horsepower engine,” says the artist. “You can barely drive on the freeway safely. But it’s not about where you’re going; it’s about the ride and the enjoyment of it.”
Santiago Michalek: “Collective” opens on Saturday, December 16th from 6-9pm. Preview his paintings in our online exhibition catalog.