Poster Art is a weekly column about today’s independent poster art and the artists who create it.
Based in the Chicagoland area, Justin Santora is an illustrator whose work focuses primarily on the themes of construction and disassembly, as well as “the pursuit for security and the desire for autonomy.” His perspective stems from the concept and process of “constructing something from the ground up” and an ongoing interest in subcultures.
Many of Santora’s illustrations focus on the reoccurring motifs of unfinished buildings, houses, and general architectural structure, while other poster designs simply hint at his love for animals. His pieces often include imagery of abandoned spaces and empty rooms that produce a sense of isolation, as well as despondence within human relations. Additionally, his more recent works include a strong presence of light, shadows, and translucent, haunting human figures.
Visually, Santora is inspired by the works of big-name artists such as Francis Bacon, Kathe Kollwitz, and Roy Lichtenstein as well as surrealists like Joseph Cornell and political activists like Sue Coe. However, Santora also draws inspiration from whimsical sources, such as Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Waterson. Moreover, he recognizes the impact that the Chicago poster-art community has had on him.
“Many local friends of mine — Jay Ryan, Kathleen Judge, Diane Sudyka, and Dan MacAdam — are poster artists whose work I’ve admired for a long time,” Santora says, “and are essentially the reason I make posters.”
Santora’s drawings consist of completely original and hand-drawn images and text. The posters are primarily screen-printed, although he also works with acrylic paint on paper and wood panels. Often, the artist will begin with a quick sketch and expand the concept, proceeding to find and photograph visual points of reference to utilize for his illustrations.
When a pencil drawing is completed, the image is then inked and copied onto film for screen printing, or the drawing is finished in paint. When Santora works on commissioned pieces (such as rock posters), he derives the artwork’s concept from the band’s music and lyrics in order to present relevant imagery. His finished pieces appear somber and contain a subdued color palette, and the linear quality is both tactile and delicate.
Santora played in bands on and off since the age of 15, and thereby became interested in the visual aspect of independent music. However, for many years, artistic interests came second to his musical endeavors. “I actually spent many years neglecting my artistic ability by being so focused on playing music,” he says. “While being involved with and playing music has given me some of my favorite memories, I was never able to even come close to making a living off of it.”
Musically, Santora notes Fugazi, Don Caballero, Archers of Loaf, Jawbreaker, and Propaghandi as a few favorites. He is inspired by the introspectiveness present within Jawbreaker’s lyrics, and he admires Propaghandi’s “tenacious adherence to their political message and independent ethics.” Thus it is no surprise that the bulk of Santora’s work is for indie-rock and punk bands. Some of these bands include My Brightest Diamond, The Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, and Dinosaur Jr.
Though he is not currently playing in a band, Santora feels connected to the independent music scene due to his working relationship with musicians and his role as a poster artist. “I think that bands and artists are able to promote one another symbiotically through the cultures surrounding both music and poster art,” he says.
The influence of comic-book art is apparent in the intricate, sketch-like quality found in Santora’s drawings, and although much of Santora’s work at first glance appears peaceful and at ease, the imagery is in fact quietly critiquing modern society. Whether the illustrations feature human figures, animals, or architectural structures, the solemn nature of the work remains accessible to the viewer, while the genuine quality of the illustrations can be appreciated by both art critics and music fans alike.
Having just returned from a group show curated by Lars P. Krause in Dresden, Germany entitled Colored Gigs 2, Santora is busy working on paintings and prints for another upcoming show, as well as a poster for the band Circa Survive. Additionally, Santora is part of a group exhibition opening Friday, October 8th at the Chicago Urban Arts Society, which will feature art by over 40 Chicagoland printmakers and poster artists.