We recently got the chance to chat with Daniel Santangelo, an amazing artist we’ve wanted to feature since we first discovered his work back in 2022. Exploring themes like identity and culture, Daniel transforms found imagery, script and, elements of the world around him to create his surrealist portraits.
In this feature Daniel explains the inspirations and origins behind his practice and what continues to shape his work .
Tell us a bit about yourself…
DS: My name is Daniel Santangelo and I’m an 18 year old artist from London born to Ethiopian/Eritrean Italian parents. I work with many mediums but I like to mainly work with acrylics. I like playing around with figurative painting to explore conversations surrounding culture, Afrofuturism, history and the relationship between reality and fantasy.
What would you say are the origins of your practice?
DS: A lot of my practice comes from an interaction between my day to day experience and my imagination. I like making work which depicts a world that is ‘almost’ reality but not quite, kind of like a dreamscape. Themes like cultural history, the cosmic, duality and surrealism seem to constantly resurface in my work. My work is definitely afrocentric, with a focus on Ethiopian/Eritrean cultural tradition.
Paintings: Daniel Santangelo
Your layering of media is incredibly profound, there's an obvious intentionality behind this and how you are composing each work. What's your process as you create a piece?
DS: I guess a lot of my paintings are almost like sketchbook pages where I’m layering all of the things that interest me. I love working with found imagery, mashing them up in my head and then painting them. Recently I’ve really been into in incorporating ፊደል/Fidel (the traditional Ethiopian/Eritrean script) into my paintings, twisting their shapes and layering them in front and behind figures and faces. I love the energetic quality that sketchbooks have, so many of my paintings have a ‘sketchy; quality to them, using chaotic brushstrokes and visible pencil sketches.
What are some of your inspirations both within and outside of art?
DS: Culture and tradition is a major source of inspiration for me, the work that I have been creating recently has been so soaked in Ethiopian/Eritrean culture. I think, in a way, my practice is my main tool in exploring my cultural heritage, paying homage to hairstyles, jewellery and other traditions. I’d say that my inspirations in art mainly stem from Afrofuturism and religious painting/mythology, placing figures in spaceless and timeless settings with abstract shapes and light sources. My favourite painter right now would definitely have to be Naudline Cluvie Pierre, her work is so insane and bold yet peaceful, something that I really try to emulate in my own work. Other artists I've really been enjoying are Julian Adon Alexander and Kerry James Marshall.
Do you have any special rituals that you do in order to strengthen your creativity and keep yourself motivated?
DS: Definitely music. It plays such an important role in my creative process and I don’t think I could create in the same way that I do without it. Right now I’m really into neo-soul and r&b. Artists like Alewya, Solange, Sade and Floetry have been in constant rotation this month. There is something about listening to music that informs the way I live and make as an artist, and I try to reflect a sense of that in the work that I make.
Painting: ‘Meskel’ by Daniel Santangelo
What's your favorite piece you've created so far?
DS: This is hard but I’d have to say my piece ‘Meskel’ which I painted last summer. A big reason I like it is because of how huge the piece is, it felt really freeing to work on such a big scale. I also really like how the piece turned out as a whole. I love the interaction between the realism, the negative space and the large textural brushstrokes. I learnt a lot about what interests me as it relates to painting and composition when I was painting this piece.
What's some advice you'd give to another creative?
DS: Since I’m still so early in this journey of discovering myself as a creative and an artist, I am definitely still figuring a lot of things out. I guess I can say a big thing would be to not put limits onto the work that you create because of some preconceived idea about ‘who you are/have to be’ as a creative. The more you just trust and surrender to the natural process of creation, the easier it is to find what really resonates with you (something I’m still constantly learning).
Keep up to date with Daniel and explore more of his work below.