I'm Santiago Michalek
My art story began when I was very young. My mom says I was painting before I was walking. I loved painting horses and people. It was my passion and during my adolescence I spent every spare minute sketching, drawing, or painting. But, as an adult and newly married (and dead broke), I bought a Volkswagen to fix up and sell for some quick money. It unintentionally became a business. I got really good at it; I fell in love with it. I would sell them at auction. Restored more bugs and busses than I can count. But something kept urging me to not delay, and get back to my art. I don’t think I was fully conscious of this feeling, but it was there. I came to a cross roads and it was time to make a decision. In that process I did something I had never done before, I painted one of my Volkswagon buses. Something clicked. I approached it much like my horses and figures. A classical approach to a modern subject. A VW bus became my reclining nude or traditional portrait. That is where I could say my professional career began. From that first painting of a VW. I was painting my story in a way and inadvertently began to paint lots of people's stories in the process. That was the first step in what became a vintage transportation/vintage mechanical theme for my work.
Despite the path to how I got here, the main focus of my work at its core is the human experience. For example, the train, in a way tells the story of all of us - either collectively or individually. Norman Rockwell was and is probably my greatest influence as an artist. His description of the human experience… it’s breathtaking. I want to tell our story through these machines much like Rockwell did. I want to make it inviting and create a feeling of connection for anyone that sees my work. Helping people see something beautiful that they didn’t realize existed. I think that’s what art is all about. A sunset is beautiful all by itself because God made it perfect. Creating beauty out of “ugly” things, I love that challenge. One of the best compliments I get as an artist is “I don’t even like trains, but I can’t stop starring at this painting.”
The nostalgia aspect in my work is somewhat inadvertent. I look at my subject from a much more subjective perspective. Is this interesting? Now for me what makes something interesting is “time”, time divided into three parts. A train for example has three histories in my opinion.
History 1 - What time does to an object as it ages is fascinating. Time decays, time erodes, time breaks down, nothing can escape it; rust, dents, sun scorched paint, dirt and scratches. Shiny paint doesn’t do it for me. It's the story that time tells that makes me want to pick up a brush.
History 2 - Another part of the history is the story of that particular object. When was it built? What was is used for? Who was the engineer and what was his story? What color was it? How many times was it repainted? When was it discontinued and was it used for parts?
History 3 - Our collective history - how trains influenced the world and changed industry. How did they evolve and adapt? How we travel and see the world, and how we move products and goods, for example.
People ask me if I consider myself a historical painter, the answer is no. I’m not painting a new train from 1922. I’m painting the train as it is today, a train that has 100 years of stories to tell, battle scars to brag about, and lifetimes of human lives witnessed. That to me… is very interesting, some could say nostalgic. It's these kinds of thoughts that are bouncing around in my head while I am painting that, in my opinion, that turn a painting of an inanimate object into something that is alive.
My art business has been designated as a "Trusted Art Seller" with The Art Storefronts Organization, which means you can shop with confidence, and know that I stand behind the quality and value of my products.