Through silence, art speaks: Karen Santos’ mixed media exhibit

Karen Santos’ newest mixed media abstract art exhibit, Silence Lifted, emerged from a harrowing experience. As an opera singer, with starring roles such as Pamina in The Magic Flute and Laetitia in The Old Maid and the Thief among her accomplishments, Santos explains that a vocal injury provoked this exhibit.

As language was stripped from me, and what I loved most, music, was robbed from me, I was forced to express myself in a different way,” says Santos.

Silence Lifted, Santos says, began with a vow of silence, where she chose to convey her varied emotions, primarily throughoil, acrylic, ink and watercolour, in her paintings.

Karen Santos proves beauty in music can flow trough a paint brush

Karen Santos proves beauty in music can flow trough a paint brush

“I feel that the exhibit accurately records each stage of the journey, from the difficult moments to the great ones. Throughout this process, I explored how I express and perceive my emotions,” Santos says. “I hope this in turn provokes the viewer to analyze and assess how they are affected by their own perception of each portrait.”

Santos characterizes the series of paintings as a transformative journey, which catalyzed positive changes in her singing, artwork and life.She explains that this series of paintings concluded with an end to her silence, as she was able to both speak and sing again.

Impressions of culture

Santos in the midst of creation.

Santos in the midst of creation.

Along with learning English and Spanish, Santos says that painting is a language she has been studying since the age of four in her home country of Mexico. Upon graduating from high school, Santos relocated to Vancouver to study Visual Arts at the University of British Columbia in 2004. Coming from a bicultural Mexican and American extended family herself, Santos says she relates to many other Vancouverites who also have bicultural backgrounds.

Her Mexican heritage, Santos says, is reflected in Silence Lifted.

“Mexican culture is very much about the senses, from our music to our food, the colours that surround us, the way we hug and kiss and are very affectionate and so on,” Santos says. “I believe this reads in my work in the way I use colours and have an explosive and gestural feel in each painting.”

She adds that some of the titles of her paintings are Spanish idioms, and refers to one entitled ‘Zero to the Left’, which articulated how she was feeling at the time.

“‘Zero to the left’ means that you are insignificant, or that you do not alter the value of that number,” says Santos.

Relations between singing and art

Just as she embodies a character while singing, Santos says she also adopts a character while painting.

“As a singer, you are expected to truly emote in order to communicate the piece,” Santos says.

Santos adds that her paintings often convey the feelings evoked from listening to a piece of music, from the act of singing itself, or give music a physical form.

Painting Silence Lifted has reciprocally enhanced Santos’ singing career. Through painting the exhibit, Santos says that she has been able to further develop the authenticity necessary to fully reach an audience.

Opportunities for Expression

By being forthcoming about the typically taboo subject of sustaining a vocal injury, Santos says she is receiving a positive response from other singers who have begunseekingSantos out for support.

Similarly, Santos hopes that her paintings will inspire her audience to express their difficult times, and reflect on the resultantlessons.

“Obviously, everyone has a different dark moment. For me, it was vocal troubles, but for someone who might be going through something different, they might see with my paintings that they are not alone and they can talk about it.”