Uniting Chicago stroke by stroke

Chicago artist, Roland Santana collaborated with an aspiring fashion designer to create graphic t-shirts, hoodies, hats and other materials. Watch clips from their project above.

All Roland Santana needs is a pen and a piece of paper to find completeness.

Not knowing a soul in Chicago, Santana packed up his life in Washington, D.C. to move to the windy city to become an artist over two years ago. Now, a junior studying art history at Columbia College, Santana’s work can be found on t-shirts and at featured art events throughout the city. His next project, which opens in November, will be a collage of photos featuring models and their interactions with his art.

The following is an edited transcript of our conversation.

Where does your inspiration for art come from?

Salvador Dali is my main inspiration and how he characterizes things that are not normal to the eye. He has inspired me to create worlds that are not easily comprehended. You have to lean into it. You have to think about it. What am I looking at? Where is this going to go?

Intriguing. Tell me about your worlds.

My lines are very flowy, things are pulsating and coming into reality. It’s a weird reality, the worlds that I create. I don’t know how to explain it.

One of Santana’s worlds is a puzzle that viewers can attempt to put together to create their own interpretation of the design.

When did you know you wanted to be an artist?

I’ve been creating since I was six years old. I was making comic books out of pieces of paper and creating action figures. I was always an artist. I liked making stuff that wasn’t easy to comprehend.

What do you want viewers to take away from your art?

I want people to feel something. All my pieces depict creatures that are bound by something, but you cannot pinpoint what it is that binds them. We are all the same. We all come from the ground of this planet. Sometimes we forget that and alienate ourselves.

How has Chicago inspired your art?

When I first came here two years ago, I realized that downtown is the center point, everyone is together there is no separation downtown. I want to bring people closer together with my art.


What are some of your favorite neighborhoods in Chicago?

I love the Pilsen area. The whole place is a gallery exhibit.

What do you like about Pilsen?

The people in Pilsen have a Latin feel to it. They aren’t shy and they’re not just conforming to American society. They keep their roots.

It almost feels like home. I see my mom cooking when walking down the streets. I’ll hear Spanish and Portuguese. It’s fun to have that strong culture here.

Tell me more about your family.

My grandparents and my mother came from Bolivia when my mom was 15 years old. My dad came from Guatemala when he was seven. They are very open minded people. They let me do what I want to do — not a lot of parents would let their kids move to a big city to become an artist. That’s where I get my head from.

Your family sounds very successful. What does success look like to you?

If you reach success, then there’s nothing to live for. You always have to strive for something. Success would be doing what I’m doing now and have more people viewing it.

What else can you tell me about your art?

Van Wolf is the project title that I go under. Van is Dutch for from or to. I combined it with wolf because of the togetherness of my art. The wolf pack works together in some type of way and we all come from some type of wolf — it is within us.

Santana’s next project will open in November. Follow his Instagram for event updates and details.

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