Kris Van Assche, creative director of Dior Homme, is a designer who always keeps the contemporary in mind, pushing the boundaries of what defines the suit and the modern man season after season, without ever forgetting about traditional codes. This may explain why he has continually tapped Nicolas Santos, a collage artist who masterfully synthesizes the new and unfamiliar out of the existing – something Van Assche more than understands – creating entrancing images that make one question. “Art should be emotional triggers,” says Santos. His art, like captivating optical illusions, demands a second look. It’s surreal and provocative, with a voice of youth and, perhaps, even a rebellious streak. The Spanish artist talks to us about finding identity, being a “catalyst” and his collaborative relationship with Van Assche and Dior Homme.
How would you describe your art?
I like to leave my work open to interpretation, so I let others describe it.
Why collage as your medium of choice?
I see collage as a mere technique. Actually, I see it as a mix of all possible techniques. I don’t want to limit myself, so, in a way, I can do paintings and I can also do sculptures. I approach different methods of working and apply them in different ways.
How did your signature aesthetic come about?
My current work is an evolution of my early works at art school. I have always pushed myself to think outside the box in order to reach a goal, even if I don’t have the right tools to do so. My early works were just a mix of different images that I’d collected and put together to create an image. The process has since evolved into a more collaborative and realistic process. I see myself as the catalyst that brings together different ideas to form a final one.
You’ve collaborated with Dior and Kris Van Assche on more than one occasion. how did it all begin?
Kris’ team contacted me to work on his eponymous label’s Fall-Winter ’13 campaign. I was still developing my work, so it was a big milestone in my career to be able to work with him, someone so respected in the fashion industry, and apply my work to his brand and vision. We’ve been collaborating for his label and Dior Homme ever since, which I am very happy and proud about.
How would you describe working with Dior?
I find Kris’ way of working with people to be very brave and honest. He is not afraid of working with people he likes. He knows what he wants, but he also trusts the people he works with, and I think this gives an added value to his work.
Collages created for Dior Homme by Nicolas Santos. (Photos: Nicolas Santos/Dior)
Do you worry about commercialisation of your art?
I have a very pragmatic approach to commercial projects. I believe they are just an extension – a realistic one – of my work. There are many different ways of delivering a message, and I think it’s wise to be aware of this and use it thoughtfully. I also have the freedom of choosing who I want to work with.
You were originally from spain, but you live in Paris now. was art the reason for the move?
I’ve actually moved to Berlin. I have been travelling around Europe these past years, trying to find a place to settle, but these days, I’ve come to realise the freedom that comes with a delocalised structure. I can have a meeting in Paris and a shoot in Milan in the same week, and still come back to Berlin to work. My generation struggles with finding an identity, but I think it comes from knowing that different places can construct it and you should just embrace that.
How has the move affected you as an artist?
Berlin has given me quality time to work on myself, and have a better perspective on life. I expect my work to somehow process and display this. In what form, I don’t know yet.
Your art often has that human body element.
Bodies are emotional objects. We use them to express ourselves and they connect us to the rest of the world. So, it is indeed a very important part in my work. I like to explore the human body, what it suggests, and how we react to it.
What inspires you?
Right now, history. I think we can learn a lot from it and it’s very important for moving forward and creating things. I’m currently obsessed with medieval imagery. It was one of the lowest points in Europe’s history and I think we can do many comparisons of that with the present.
Let’s talk about your recent work with Dior Homme and the Fall/Winter 2015 collection. how did you develop the concept for the collages you created?
I wanted to focus on the similarities and differences between the men portrayed in the collection. The duality of street and formal wear, a signature of Kris’ work, with a special focus on the details and cuts. It’s quite melodic. The cuts, shapes and colours form a pattern as though part of a musical composition. The collection itself had strong orchestral references.
What qualities of Dior Homme do you identify with?
Its quest for contemporary masculinity, the way it sees creation as an emotion-driven process and the poetics of a man in a suit.
Are you the brooding artist who closes himself away from the world or are you the light-hearted sort?
My studio is both. I have learned to build my work on “positive” and “negative” situations, knowing that these all shape whoIam,whatIfeelandwhatIwantto talk about.
See more of Nicolas Santos’ work here.