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