Jose John Santos III's Ambiguous Warrior

BY MADS BAJARIAS | In Jose John Santos III's "Commando," we get a sense that something is going on, but we can't put a finger on it yet.

A plan is in motion but we don't quite know what it is. Our animal instinct senses something that the more genteel parts of the brain are still struggling to piece together. We are suspended at that moment hovering between the mysterious and the commonplace. The attraction of "Commando" to me is that it secretes us to a pocket of surrealism between the membranes of the mundane.

Here, we get a dark-skinned man—a guy who works out in the open, a man used to manual labor—sitting on a plastic chair perched on a boat's ramp. His broad shoulders hint that he is capable of physical violence if he chooses to. The piece of cloth (shirt? towel?) tied over his face adds a bit of menace. It's unclear if he is hiding his face or maybe he just wants the sun out of his eyes. In any case, there's an intimation of nervous tension in the way that it is tied tightly over the head.

He has positioned himself on the ramp near the prow, which is a bit odd, as if he was blocking the passageway. Plus, what is he doing with his hands?

The sign "This Way Up" adds a disconcerting note. Up where? Where are we, in the first place?

The biplane is an element of fantasy that further tears us away from a clear and straightforward understanding of the scene. Its appearance brings a sense of dislocation and bewilderment that is mirrored in the way that the boat's passenger ramp is secured aboard the vessel. We are at sea. Unmoored. We are on our own. And we have no clear idea where we are.

And the final ingredient that the artist throws into the kettle is the title: Commando. Enigma complete.

Jose John Santos III answers a few questions.

Medium used. Size. When was it made?

JJS: Oil on canvas. 4 by 4.5 feet, finished in 2008.

Can you share with us the ideas you wanted to explore with this painting?

JJS: I wanted "Commando" to have a directly recognizable image, and yet have an unfathomable essence at the same time. It is this feeling of uncertainty and the unexplained that I find compelling.

Why the title "Commando"?

JJS: It gave this feeling that the man is out on a mission of unknown purpose, and the viewers become drawn to him and his mysterious mission.

Where can people go to see your works?

JJS: Art Informal. I also usually show my works in Boston Gallery, Pinto Gallery and West Gallery.

Thanks John. Much thanks to Tina Fernandez, too. We appreciate the help.

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