A. Santo, 2017
Oil on canvas - 77х44
São Tomé, São Tomé and Príncipe
How does the traveller see it?
(Fragment of a post from a Facebook page)
A familiar scene

I purchased this one in São Tomé and Príncipe. I had the chance to buy a painting that depicted a similar scene in Ghana in 2018 as well as the Central African Republic in 2020. They are a conceptual fit for the art I buy – something is happening on the canvas. I always ask the artist to tell me what exactly that is, and without that information it can be quite difficult.

Can you get it without a hint?

I didn’t buy the two other paintings because the lions in them looked like, well… not lions, let’s say that. Whereas in this one, the lion is unmistakeable. Moreover, the trees and clouds are well drawn, and we can see the artist’s signature.

At an annual international gathering organized by Nomadmania.com on the island of Príncipe, I asked my fellow travellers about the painting. The first theory I heard was that the picture depicts a hunt. Yet that’s not it.

The artist behind this painting, and similar ones from Africa, says it answers the following question: what do you do when everything is against you? Although when you look at the quality of life in these countries, is it reasonable to doubt the efficacy of this answer?

You can find more details about the scene on the canvas, as well as photos of those paintings from Ghana and the Central African Republic, on Facebook. For whom that path is too long, the answer is as follows: put your trust in God. Even if everything is against you, He will save you.
What does the expert say?
This painting presents the viewer with a panorama, inviting us to have a look around at the beautiful nature of Africa, but the assortment of imagery interrupts that peaceful frame. Going clockwise: the lion (Earth) on the right side represents strength and power, and it is probably the first image to jump out at you on the canvas. At the bottom, the crocodile (Water) represents cunning, patience, and the viewer sees only part of this animal. On the left, the tree (a woman?) possesses features of the female figure. The snake wrapping itself around one of her branches represents the fall of Man: considering that the artist’s native country is about 90% Catholic, we needn’t doubt the symbolism of that image. On top: a bird of prey (Air) represents swiftness and the unexpected. The man clings to a branch of this tree-woman, and he’s lost his gun – it falls down into the abyss. This hints at the anti-militaristic message of the painting: a weapon can’t help you when danger lurks from all sides. All you can do is hold on tight to a loved one.

Missing from this set of images is Fire, but perhaps this element is symbolized by the red flowers gathered at the base of the tree-woman. But this is just a guess.

The title of the work, When There’s No Way Out, actually provides us an answer for what to do in hopeless situations – hold on to your loved ones, to the feeling of love, and whatever happens happens. For it is impossible to fight all the elements by yourself, even if you have a weapon. This is a very interesting example of naïve art, in which it’s not so much the artistic technique that is important as it is the way the author conveys his perception of the world and of the problem at hand. The viewer sees powerful symbolism, stripped of unnecessary artistic techniques: nude symbolism, so to speak. The colors are clear, rich, and you can pick out the colors of the author’s national flag quite easily.

Two works by Henri Rousseau come to mind. First, The Sleeping Gypsy: it features a lion (drawn primitively) and most importantly, it features an atmosphere of anticipation and suspense. Second, The Snake Charmer: here, once more, we have a snake wrapping itself around a tree branch, the female figure, a lake, and an atmosphere of extended anticipation. Rousseau was going for an exotic feel, while Santo conveys to us what he sees; both artists are keen on the use of color and depicting the condition of characters on their canvasses. In both cases, we are dealing with situations at a stalemate – but the worse is yet to come. The stalemate dissipates into beauty. Thus a predator attacking his prey in the natural world does not seem particularly “wrong”.

Roman (Miller) Miroshnichenko, artist, art populariser
Что скажет зритель?