Who is Tamara Santibanez in her own words?
I am a tattooer, artist, and more recently, an independent publisher.
When did you discover drawing and/or illustration was your passion and that you had a talent for it?
I've drawn since I was young, very consistently, whether it was cartoon characters and mermaids or fashion sketches or portraits of friends. I feel lucky to have a family that supported my wanting to venture into a creative field.
Your work is very identifiably yours. Where do you find your inspiration for your work and are their central themes you like to visit and re-visit?
I find inspiration primarily from my surroundings, community, and history. I love to read and often find myself in an early morning or late night hole of articles on the Internet, books from my shelves, and watching documentaries or listening to podcasts and bouncing between all of them at once. I collect vintage magazines as well. I think it's pretty obvious from my work that I am immersed in punk, Chicano culture, and BDSM themes, which are all part of who I am. I want to continuously learn about who I am and that in turn inspires me.
A lot of your work uses primarily black and white combinations and both strong but subtle imagery. What is it about the black/white combo that you love?
I consider black and white in visual art, and black and grey in tattooing, to have a timeless feel. I like the idea of simplifying something to make it more legible and more universal. I think black and grey tattooing ages beautifully and is harder to pinpoint to a particular era.
Can you briefly explain the process you undertake from idea to finished piece?
Most of my work is the end result of a pretty long process. I usually set up still life scenarios and play around with what looks good, take a lot of photos, rearrange, take more photos. When I find a good composition I treat the image the same way you would a portrait tattoo, making a tracing and projecting it onto paper or canvas to enlarge it, then finally actually painting it.
As well as setting your designs to paper or other mediums, the human body is also your canvas. What comes first art or tattooing or do they go hand in hand for you?
They definitely go hand in hand, though I try to keep a healthy separation between the two. Tattooing keeps me grounded and disciplined, which lets me be a bit more experimental with the artwork side of things. I like the practical constraints of making a tattoo, and having to make your image fit the medium. It's definitely flattering and a good challenge when people like my artwork and want it translated into a tattoo.
Your most recent work features a lot of simple bold imagery with BDSM themes. Leather, chains, whips... What was it about BDSM or leather culture that inspired you to create the pieces?
What originally drew me to painting those images was the potency the objects have as symbols. People are very unsettled by them and have strong associations with them. I am interested in simplifying the images to a very distilled form to tell a story that can be open to interpretation depending on who is looking at it. Partially the exploration is personal, a form of self-portraiture or to reflect circumstances in my life, particularly in romantic relationships, and I am at heart a leather fetishist so painting the textures is inherently fun for me. I want to keep using materials and objects as metaphor to describe power dynamics.
As I mentioned earlier you are also a tattooist. You have your art integrated onto prints, clothing, in art exhibitions, zines and the human body. Is there any medium you haven't yet explored that you want to?
At the moment I'm increasingly interested in writing and conducting interviews. It's possible I may be doing a podcast coming up which is an idea I'm very excited about.
Are there any artists across any medium you admire and would love to someday work/collaborate with?
Lately I've been looking at older generations for inspiration. The younger, digital era is hard for me to relate to, despite being a part of it. I think it's easy to get caught up in trying to be new and original and edgy and forget that there are people much older than us who have been doing all of those things for a long time. I look at artists like Steve Parrino, Nancy Grossman, Richard Serra, Eleanor Antin, Charles Gatewood, Hanna Liden, Betty Tompkins, Genesis P Orridge, etc and think, how can I continue and add my voice to the the conversation they've begun? That being said, going forward I am working on more collaborative projects with the publishing venture, wanting to spotlight people whose work I admire or whose thoughts and politics I want to facilitate.
Is there one piece of your work that you are personally most fond of or proud of?
I just did my first oil on canvas painting in about eight years and am pretty proud of the result. I made one painting that was a more abstracted black leather field which I feel good about whenever I look at it…that's a theme I want to revisit.
You have worked on a few collaborations and projects were your work has been used. Is that something you are generally picky about or is it a natural evolution? And are there any collaborations you are currently working on?
I am usually choosy about who I work with. I am fortunate to have a job that I love that pays the bills, so that I don't rely on freelance to make a living. That lets me wait until the right situation to come along. Right now I'm working on a collaboration with OBEY, and just did some illustrations for LA-based friends of mine BORN X RAISED. I'm also doing a project with furniture and interior designers Material Lust.
What is the one thing you would like people to take away from your work?
What does the next 12 months look like for Tamara Santibanez?
The next twelve months are already shaping up to be very busy! Highlights include: releasing a monthly series of Chicano history posters in collaboration with Ricardo Montenegro featuring six different artists, showing work and having a solo show in LA in the fall, curating a group show that will be a pop-up porn store full of artist-made items…much more but I don't want to get ahead of myself!