Larry Santana, now teaching visual arts Tusbab High School in the Madang Province of Papua New Guinea, is recognised as one of the country’s most-talented artists.
His works have been widely exhibited both in Papua New Guinea and abroad.
Santana grew up in Madang after his father found work as a mechanic.
His father’s premature death made life in this urban environment very precarious.
While his mother struggled as a domestic to feed her four children, Larry, the eldest, collected discarded bottles to supplement the family’s meager resources and help pay for school fees.
Despite much hardship, Santana finished high school and won admission to Goroka Technical College.
Obtaining a diploma graphics, he migrated to Port Moresby to work as an artist.
Living in the city was not easy for Santana and his family.
In 1988, he lost his job and home when the advertising firm he worked for went bankrupt.
With no unemployment benefits from the state, he was forced to build himself a shack from materials gleaned from the city dump and to scavenge for discarded food.
The hunger and loss of self-worth experienced during those lean months are recorded in his painting are recorded in his painting, Self-Portrait: Suffering and Pain at the Six-Mile Dump.
In 1993, disaster struck again when a fire destroyed Santana’s apartment and all his possessions.
While Santana’s finely-executed drawings show the influence of his graphic training, the intensity and decorative aspects of his images reflect the advice of an expatriate teacher: to always heed the inspiration of his feelings and to follow his Papua New Guinea sense of design.
Santana’s work is often expressionistic and stylised.
Through powerful symbols – for example, the hand of tradition, fire, tears or high-rise buildings – his subjects express deeper meanings about the values of Melanesian life and reflect contemporary problems of “culture clash”.
Santana says he has found much more inspiration since moving from the noisy capital city of Port Moresby to quite Madang.
“I’m still keeping in touch with the outside world,” he says.
“Madang is very quite.
“Otherwise, it’s much better in Madang because it’s much more inspirational.
“In Port Moresby, my art was not really from within the soul.”
Santana still sells a lot of his work to people from other countries.