The Art Plug Editorial: Jonathan Ryan Harvey
It is often a childhood dream to see toys and favorite characters come to life, and it is our unpolluted imaginations that humanize them. We see this youthful curiosity animated by talented adults in popular movies like Toy Story, or in art, comic books, and TV shows. What a child sees as a fun-loving adventure, an adult might perceive as a self-reflection or fresh perspective into common facets of life.
Santino Sverdlov (aka Santlov) has built a strong following with his incredible ability to harness that childhood imagination we all once possessed, pairing it brilliantly with his shrewd perceptions on human culture. Born in Cuba and based in Miami, Santlov is both a talented graphic designer and photographer, coupling his skills to create expressive works of art that flow with originality.
His viral series titled, ToysRLikeUs is a diverse collection of social commentary pieces using some of the most iconic characters in existence. This series meshes icons with routine activities or cynical situations that adults experience on the daily, urging the viewer to question the very society we contribute to.
“Everything today seems like a recycled, watered-down version of my childhood,” Santlov said. “If anything, all of it only serves as reinforcement to my message of our current paradoxical state of inauthentic crap.”
Pieces like, “Oh No!” feature Toy Story’s Woody gasping as he watches his iPhone sink into the toilet.
“That’s What Friends Are For” also features Woody, this time using his phone to take a picture of a passed out and ‘sharpied’ Buzz Lightyear.
“Found Nemo” puts a morbid spin on the classic Finding Nemo movie showing Nemo lifeless in a toilet like an ordinary pet fish.
“When You Turn 18” sees the infamous Ninja Turtles enjoying a dollar bill filled night at a local strip club.
It is these relatable associations harmonized with smooth aesthetics that pull viewers in to stay. Santlov often discourses the phrase, “Life imitates life,” and this curious juxtaposition is present in all of his work.
“ToysRLikeus hopefully makes the viewer question the pseudo-reality we are placed in,” Santlov said. “In our lifetime the system will not completely change. All we can do is unplug ourselves here and there.”
With no formal training, Santlov soared into the art world by revealing his creative work to the masses through social media. He quickly grew a following with viewers ogling over his inventive use of figurines playfully commenting on trends and culture. Now with over 285k followers on Instagram and a vast presence in prestigious galleries and art shows, Santlov’s work is just beginning.
“My work is what draws people in,” he said. “The connections created with collectors, followers, or fans who understand me and my vision is the real reason I am here. You’re here. Not some ploy to lure you in by dangling success and wealth in front of you, treating you like some dumb fish. People need to stop being suckered in and for real stop falling for that shit…wake up!”
Santlov’s authentic approach to his growth in the art world is unique in itself, but true to the person he is. Santlov’s style is inspired by his personal experience with the society we live in. The art of social commentary has been practiced forever, but it is always adjusting with the times. Santlov proves that there are still original ways to expand this message to the world, and he is doing it through the toys and characters we all know and love.
“There is a specific reasoning behind the exclusive usage of toys in my work,” Santlov stated. “Toys, at their very core are contrived objects; shoved down the throats of our children, then adversely used as useful training tools. A gateway drug of sorts, prepping them for the veils of self-indulgences and over-consumerism while effectively guiding them towards the grips of mass media and marketing schemes.”
Santlov has been featured in dozens of exhibitions around the world and is constantly expanding his artistic repertoire by working in different mediums and experimenting with new concepts. Since the start of his art career, Santlov’s extensive support led to collaborations with some of the biggest brands in the world; Nike, Samsung, Bacardi, and celebrity commissioned work from Avicii and Kygo.
While he prefers not to talk about future projects in fear of impacting a project too soon, it is apparent that he has an extremely promising future brimming with new opportunities as his bulky following grows even bigger.
Original quotes courtesy of toysforboysofficial via Santlov