Santino Sverdlov, otherwise known as @Santlov, has a really authentic vibe to him. He hasn’t got any formal training or pretend to have always known he wanted to be an artist.–the guy was diving head first into medical school when he started toying around with toys. What he has is an innate understanding of the perks and pitfalls of the way the world is changing and something to say about it. Toys for Boys caught up with Santlov to get the run down on toys as imagery, collaborative concepts and how hype-based shit is crap, or something like that.
TFB: Tell me your background and how you decided to get in to art?
SS: I was born in Cuba. My family exiled to Panama when I was very young and then I came to Miami around 3 years old. With no formal training or experience whatsoever, I thrust myself forward into the art world about 5 years ago. Right around the time I was expecting my first child, I was headed to medical school…thankfully, art saved me from that. That was also right around the launch of Instagram, actually. At the time it was being marketed as this new app for photogs or artists to share their work with others in the art community, so I figured there was no better place to showcase some of my “hobby” work. After a few months, the work started to improve; I got much more pensive about the concepts and designs I put out and it actually began drawing serious attention. Everything has been kind of snowballing since then.
TFB: Tell me about the social commentary behind shooting toys and how you select the toys you shoot and also how the art changes as current sociopolitical environments change?
SS: What’s that thing everyone says? Art imitates life! I see how some of my pieces can be viewed as aesthetic repurposing of recycled imagery. And some of it may very well fall into that category to a certain degree; but the reality is, conceptually, my themes stem from a realm of discontent–a phenomenon where now, ironically but not surprisingly, Life Imitates Life. There is a specific reasoning behind the exclusive usage of toys in my work. Toys, at their very core are contrived objects; shoved down the throats of our children, then adversely used as useful training tools. A gateway drug of sorts, prepping them for the veils of self-indulgences and over-consumerism while effectively guiding them towards the grips of mass media and marketing schemes. When a child receives their first toy he or she now has their first possession, their first thing; and oh how they/we come to love those “things.” And surely, [we] will soon “need” more. The seed of fallacy is planted as we are slowly molded into a culture where the indoctrination is if you do A, to get B, you will be C (happy) or the more B you have the more C you will be, etc. In my opinion, a toy is the perfect idealization of modern human existence. Created to serve a meaningless directive, only to be effortlessly discarded and eventually forgotten. And they’re fake and plastic too. The series ToysRLikeus, hopefully makes the viewer question the pseudo-reality we are placed in. In our lifetime the system will not completely change. All we can do is unplug ourselves here and there. Sadly, for now, one-foot-in, one-foot-out is the best we can achieve. I am sure my future concepts will run along those same socially progressive veins
TFB: Tell me about some of the collaborations you’ve done in the past like with Kiehl’s for example and what your approach to working alongside another brand is like, compared to when you’re making art for your own purposes?
SS: When creating for myself, everything is almost a release of personal feelings or tensions aroused by perceptions or even misperceptions of life issues surrounding us all. For certain collaborative projects I may not go as deep with it, yet still try to sneak a little something in there. I’ve done a few collaborations and one of the most enjoyable was with Kiehl’s. The execs there were so amazingly open with their expectations and [they] gave me very little restrictions on the creative direction I took–which can be a blessing or a curse for any artist working with a large corporation. For the Kiehl’s project, I had the opportunity to install visuals on the facade of their new Lincoln Road location during Art Basel, which at the time was somewhat of a new undergoing for me… I love taking on projects that allow me to push my limits. If I am not questioning myself on how I will pull something off, then I probably should not be doing it. At the end, the final product was fantastic. It was only supposed to be stay up for one season. I believe they kept it and still have it on display to date; even ended up commissioning other works to display in their corporate offices.
TFB: What are some unique projects you might have in the works that you might be able to share with us?
SS: I just completed a Jack Skellington 90′ wall mural off of 395 causeway and am excited to continue working in those types of mediums. I feel this will open new doors to display my work, and looking forward to seeing where it will take me. As far as new stuff goes, I am incredibly superstitious of any negative energy that can impact even kill a project by talking about it too soon. I never like to talk about anything until it is fully materialized or even completed.
TFB: How would you say you got your start or who was the first person to sort of get your art and give you your first break?
SS: For many up and coming artists, a major part of their rise is largely due to exposure from some celebrity collector or other famous cosigners. I never wanted to take that route, you will never see any social media uploads of famous collectors standing by my work or me boasting about sold out sales–none of that marketing crap that we all drool over. I look around and I mostly see finance-driven, hype-based, smoke-and-mirror, weak-conceptualized brands/artists. Sadly, it’s like 90% of the shit out there. If people fuck with me, its organic. My work is what draws people in…the connections created with collectors, followers or fans who understand me and my vision is the real reason I am here. You’re here. Not some ploy to lure you in by dangling success and wealth in front of you, treating you like some dumb fish. People need to stop being suckered in and for real stop falling for that shit…wake up! That said, there are a few key people who along my path have offered a helping hand; allowing me to take a step upward. I am forever grateful for them and they all hopefully know who they are.
TFB: What would you say is the direction you’ll be taking in the future? How do you see your craft changing or yourself changing within it or through it?
SS: I do this private, mental thing where I sit and visualize what my work would be like in a few years: what topics would I be shooting about? Will it be painting, mixed media, etc? I’ll pretend scroll through a feed and imagine how different it would all be. The beauty of art and the true power behind it is that it forces one into a more conscious and thoughtful existence. As you self-awaken, you evolve. As I evolve so will my work… I can’t wait to see into what exactly.
TFB: Many of the “toys” you shoot are images of your childhood, how does being a parent affect the art in the sense of having so much newness thrown at you constantly?
SS: Everything today seems like a recycled, watered-down version of my childhood. If anything, all of it only serves as reinforcement to my message of our current paradoxical state of inauthentic crap.
TFB: Who’s someone you would love to collaborate with?
SS: I’d love to take a time machine and collab with several artists who have passed away. Or, even better, bring them back to the future and see the work they would come up with after experiencing the grid.
TFB: Are there any artists or creators of any kind that inspired you to take the leap into art?
SS: I feel every single art piece one sees, along with every single artist one admires or meets, inspires and inevitably somehow leaves an imprint on them and consequently their work.