A trip to Santisima is an experience in itself, especially for any out of towner looking for adventure. While wondering the streets of Albuquerque’s Old Town, you will eventually come across a courtyard draped in colorful paper Mexican cut-out banners. Being a big fan of beautiful patios, I found my hunt for the gallery to be rather enjoyable. The walkway through the old adobe shops is covered in vines; the glow of light radiates from the windows of the tiendas; and rod iron pieces of art are scattered beautifully throughout the courtyard. It’s exactly the type of picturesque scene a tourist might imagine at the mention of a “rural Southwest town” such as Albuquerque. Tucked into the bosom of the Poco Apoco Patio you will find the Santisima gallery on the second floor. Santisima translates to “Holiest of the Holy”, which you could easily correlate to it being the best of the best, especially when it comes to Day of the Dead art.
Santisima is not your typical Old Town art gallery. Instead of depending on the traditional Southwest and Indian-style pieces that we commonly see trademarking our city, Santisima relies on their Dia De Los Muerto-style artwork to wrangle tourists from the sidewalks of the adobe village. It’s very enjoyable to see the owner encourage his artists to show everything from traditional retablo’s to more controversial folk art type pieces. For example, Charlie Carillo, a local artist who is well known for his traditional retablos, has the freedom in a place such as Santisima to contribute pieces outside his norm. “If it’s done just perfect, and tasteful, like a ‘Madam and Eve’ (done by Carillo), everyone can have a little chuckle but still appreciate the beauty and tradition of the art itself.” says Johnny.
The art featured at Santisima show cases a wide range of styles and mediums. They have everything from beautiful jewelry, framed one-of-a-kind pieces, prints, shadow box shrines, figurines, retablos and more. When you walk in you will find it is overflowing with charm that covers the walls from floor to ceiling.
My second favorite, when it came to featured artists, had to be from El Moises. He has to be one of the most altruistic Chicano artists I’ve ever seen. His style will transport you to the heart of classic, barrio-style Albuquerqueño culture. His work is filled with vibrant colors that frame the most simplistic scenes but capture the heart of the culture better then any I’ve seen before. They are incredibly well done and anyone who shares Latino background or upbringings will undoubtedly relate with his subject matter.
Now you won’t find Santisima online or even on Facebook. Johnny likes to go against the grain when it comes to the traditional ways of doing modern business. He does not do any business or promoting online — in fact sometime soon he will be getting setup with an email address, but that’s about as technical as it gets for this gallery owner. If you want to know what this shop has to offer, then I guess you will have to detach yourself from the cyberworld long enough to experience some real Albuquerque culture first hand.
In fact, the Dia De Los Muertos celebration may be just the opportunity you were looking for. This celebration is something that Johnny has made Old Town legendary for. It started out with a crowd of about 300 and has drawn crowds of over 900 in its most recent years. It takes about six months of planning for the event to go off without a hitch. It features an AMAZING incentive for locals and tourists to shop locally. With every purchase over $20, you are given a raffle ticket, and if you are lucky you could be a winner of pieces valuing up to $1,000. This Day of the Dead celebration is probably the biggest in the city, second to perhaps the Marigold Parade. This year you can catch both being that they are never planned to take place on the same day. Santisima’s 7th annual Dia de los Muertos celebration will be Saturday, Nov. 3r, in the Poco Apoco Patio in Old Town. If you need a little “Caliente and Culture,” as Johnny put it, then don’t miss one of Albuquerque’s most exciting celebrations.
For more information, contact Johhny Salas at 505-246-2611