His story challenges society’s expectations for an artist that some people may see as „disabled“ even if his art shows us that he is more than capable of adding value to the world through his art. The artist also teaches us that you can make a significant difference in the world while keeping true to yourself.
*This interview has been conducted with Santiago’s brother, Nico Segura.
How did you first get interested in art? How has it changed your life?
Growing up, Santiago showed early interest in the arts via drawing, painting, and playing musical instruments. As life went on, it became evident that the communication would be non-verbal mostly due to his autistic side. As such, he started to do art therapy and other art activities as a medium to express himself in non-verbal ways. As his skills improved and he learned new painting techniques, Santiago became more and more dedicated to pursuing his life path as an artist. This path led to the release of his first original canvas painting collection in 2022 to celebrate his 16th birthday.
Can you describe your creative process?
Santiago’s work is focused on abstract art and his creative process is unique for several reasons. One aspect that stands out, is that Santiago creates his canvas paintings by addings layers of paint on top of each other over time. This process allows each canvas to show depth and to tell a story as you see all the layers of paint intertwined with one another. This process may be counterproductive at times since Santiago may work on layers for a painting and at times he may decide to cover everything he has done so far with paint and, in a way, start all over. Santiago uses a diverse range of materials, including hand-applied gesso for texture, acrylics, oil paint, oil pastel, and charcoal. Interestingly, sometimes also likes to hold his favorite harmonica with one hand, or even play it, while painting. When he feels stressed, holding or playing his harmonica brings him calm and focus during his art sessions (see this video for an example).
How do you feel when you paint?
Santiago’s art sessions are filled with a range of emotions, mostly dominated by moments of laughter and smiling. At times, he also does focused work during these sessions, learning and practising new techniques or experimenting with new materials, colors, and styles. Other times, the mood in these art sessions can rapidly and unexpectedly change, with Santiago suddenly starting to cry or getting pensive and nostalgic while painting. Since he is on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ADS), there may be factors that contribute to some of these mood swings. But instead of making it a taboo subject or a secret, it is important to shine a light on this and show this side as well because these behaviours are normal and they could happen to any human being.
Do you have another passion besides art?
Santiago’s passion for art extends into music and musical instruments as well. Other than the harmonica, he also enjoys playing instruments like the guitar, drums, and even the marimba; also likes to ride a bike that was designed for his special needs, and he loves to greet people as he rides. His biggest passion outside of art is anything water related. He can stare at the ocean or a river for a long time and just enjoy the peace from the waves crashing and the water flowing. Santiago also loves to swim, and he can easily do this for hours at a time. Some artworks of his even seem to be inspired by the water, with objects that seem to resemble fish in the water.
What role does your family play in supporting your art career and special needs care?
Santiago’s family is supportive of his art career and his special needs care in several ways. Santiago’s father is disabled himself, and the mother cares for both. This means that although Santiago is not fully receiving the level of special needs care he truly needs, his mother does different therapeutic and schooling activities with him at home in addition to working together on art sessions. His two older siblings also help by contributing towards the costs of special needs care, art sessions, and general living costs for Santiago and his parents. We also help to add visibility to our brother’s work so that he can focus on what he does best: creating art.
Where can you buy your work?
His original canvas paintings are available via SantiagoMakesArt.com or via his social media page (@SantiagoMakesArt). Aside from original paintings, you can also find giclee art prints of Santiago’s artworks in his store. The proceeds are used to provide Santiago with special needs care, in addition to making philanthropic donations to non-for-profit organisations that help to lift neurodivergent individuals like Santiago.
Can you share any upcoming projects or exhibitions you have in the works?
In 2023, International Down Syndrome Day falls on March 21st and International Autism Day falls on April 2nd. As a goal for these dates, there will be donations on Santiago’s behalf towards organizations supporting neurodivergent individuals in the United States, Australia, and Colombia. Once Santiago recovers from his upcoming medical procedures, he will create his next original canvas painting collection with the goal of helping to raise funds to take care of his own special needs, in addition to continuing to help organizations supporting individuals like him.
Is there anything else you would like to share with the readers?
From a life expectancy perspective, it is known that some individuals with Down syndrome may have a shorter life span relative to others. This matters because it means that „tomorrow“ is even less guaranteed for individuals like Santiago, and „today“ counts even more than ever. It is impossible to know how long his life may be. However, Santiago’s family wants him to live the very best life he can have, and for his life to leave a significant legacy through his art.
Santiago was born with several medical complications, some of which have intensified. Initially he was diagnosed with Down syndrome, and later in life it was found that he was on the ADS as well. Santiago has gone through multiple surgeries during childhood to correct the bones in his legs and arms. In 2023 Santiago will undergo surgery to reconstruct his ear canal membrane, fix problems with his tongue, and correct issues with his nose to improve his breathing. These issues are important to share because they show a true depiction of what real life can be like for individuals with autism and Down syndrome. At times, Santiago also has stayed at an institute providing psychiatric specialized care, as at times there can be turbulent moments for his mental health. It is important to talk about mental health openly, to educate each other, and to humanize individuals like Santiago.
Despite these difficulties, from a professional perspective, in 2022 Santiago became the first artist with autism and Down syndrome to release a collection of 1,000 unique digital artworks via his art project ABSTRACTO. Furthermore, Santiago’s original canvas paintings are currently selling for thousands of dollars, with collectors in places like Europe and the United States. Lastly, in early 2023 Santiago launched a store for (giclee) art print reproductions of his paintings, with buyers in the United States, Canada, the UK, Italy, Germany, Australia and more. Santiago and his family are extremely proud of him, knowing that art that he originally created with his own hands, is now decorating the walls of spaces all around the world. On social media, other artists, painters, fashion designers, and even actor Sharon Stone have reached out directly to purchase and trade his artworks.
Thank you for learning about Santiago’s life story so far, with so much more yet to come. Individuals on the Autism Disorder Spectrum teach us that you do not need to fit society’s mold. It is our duty as caregivers and family members to welcome them and to create platforms to support them in every way we can. In the end, they may be able to teach us much more than we can teach them, and we must always remember this key takeaway.
Santiago Ferro – www.santiagomakesart.com