While you may not recognize his name, chances are if you’ve read weird fiction, you’ve seen his artwork. Argentine visual artist Santiago Caruso fuses a unique combination of everything from surrealism to the fantastique into his art. He’s created countless covers for weird fiction books for everything from Tartarus Press to the recently released Year’s Best Weird Fiction, Volume One. We talked to Caruso about what inspires his art, how he makes it, and more.
WeirdFictionReview: Your art is very distinct and easy to identify. It’s an interesting combination that ranges from Gothic to surreal to fantastical. How do you tend to describe your style?
Santiago Caruso: Today, I would define myself as a Symbolist, who recreates the deformation of reality that the human being perceives — i.e. the phantom of conventional objects — to go deeper into them with a new kind of perception. I try to summon a poetic phantom that supplies a wider vision of the human, contemplating the beautiful, the frightening, the repressed or forgotten in the shadows, the impossible. With this concept of depiction, I try to utilize Gothic symbolism as a crystallized view of the world in many respects. I combine religion, politics, and commonplace things to reveal another vision of the world with regard to the unconscious, the damned ghosts we’ve buried, and many other aspects of history and philosophy.
SC: From a very early age, I remember building houses, ships, and other stuff with boxes or chairs and playing in them with toys; inventing stories is something I’ve always done since then. Drawings and music were also present since the first days of my childhood. I copied comic strips such as Patoruzú, Condorito and Afanancio. I also made caricatures of people and by chance, I attended classes with a teacher who did comics when I was 14 years old. Music was always there, in addition, influencing my artwork.
Later, at 19, I made illustration my medium of expression. I started making children’s illustrations in books for school. Later, under the influence of William Blake and other Symbolists, such as Max Klinger, Alfred Kubin, and Odilon Redon, my style underwent a change in order to be the same tone of the themes I saw in their images. The questions of evil, sin, love, memory and beauty, are subjects that were inspiring to me, so the narrative path I took to illustrate weird fiction turned later from the anecdotic allegory into poetry in order to build a narrative and not just a moment in the story. I do oscillate between those languages, depending on the text and how I want to express the content. These days, I am writing and I believe those scripts can be songs. I don’t know, but maybe I will do something with music too.
SC: Yes, I do. My artwork is closely related with fantastic literature of the XIX century and philosophy. I am between Romanticism and psychology, poetry and skepticism.
I am related to the word, or I should say, to language. I believe I construct my images as if I were writing them. The final view of it must communicate in one glance the general feeling and idea, but after that, you can read the image almost as a text, so it must be built with the same rules of grammar if you want to express yourself clearly.
WFR: Are there authors or poets have inspired you? Are there any particular books, literature, poems that have inspired your works?
SC: One of the special moments of change in my life was when I read the writings of William Blake and Charles Baudelaire. The latter is almost like a father to my style. I could say I am always returning to him as a prodigal son. I’ve also started reading Poe, Lovecraft, Meyrink, and many others but the particular view of Marcel Schwob is the perfect mirror I’ve found for my visual narrative. The French Decadent movement is the weird literature I love the most, specifically À rebours (Against Nature) by J. K. Huysmans.
As a project next year, I have the hard task of undertaking “Les chants de Maldoror”, but I will enjoy the challenge. The strange tone and eclectic mood of the writings of Pascal Quignard is another thing I find inspiring. I try to express this in the change from narrative to visual poetry I do these days. However, the tone of my images is also somewhat rooted in Eastern European taste. It’s quite a mysterious link since I didn’t see any of their products until some time after I changed the way I depict the world, transitioning from the grotesque to classic figuration between 2004 and 2005.
SC: I usually use ink and watercolors. The ink is applied over a plastered cardboard and is later scratched with a cutter to depict the lighting. There is no sketch, so I work slowly, using the shape of spots of ink from the base, to construct my figures in there, in the shadows.
Recently, to save time, I returned to tempera and acrylics images with a textural mood in a dark tone like my other scratched art. I want to paint again in oils, after almost ten years. I’ll see if I find the time for it.
WFR: In Argentina, are there other visual artists, poets, authors who are pursuing the same sort of art and style as you?
SC: Yes, while exploring art, I’ve found others like Guillermo Roux, Quique Alcatena, and Federico Parolo, who present a world of strangeness and symbolisms. If I go far enough in the past, I’ve also enjoyed the engravings of Víctor Delhez, a Belgian-born artist, raised in Argentina since his youth, who has illustrated Lord Dunsany, Charles Baudelaire, and Saint John’s Apocalypse. In writing, I’ll mention María Negroni and Ángel Olgoso, who give a poetic treatment of the fantastique. Lastly, I made some illustrations for a book of Olgoso, which is still looking for a publisher.
WFR: What do you consider as some of your best pieces?