Air Force artisans: Master Sgt. Santiago

Master Sgt. Enrique Santiago, 30th Force Support Squadron career assistance supervisor, sits in front of two of his paintings at his garage-studio June 5, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Santiago is an avid practitioner of abstract expressionism and recently had several paintings placed in a gallery in Los Alamos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley/Released)

Master Sgt. Enrique Santiago, 30th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, sits in front of two of his paintings at his garage-studio June 5, 2015, Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Santiago is an avid practitioner of abstract expressionism and recently had several paintings placed in a gallery in Los Alamos. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Ian Dudley/Released)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE,Calif. -- Editor's note: This will be an ongoing series highlighting the diverse talents and artistic passions of Vandenberg Airmen.

Master Sgt. Enrique Santiago 30th Force Support Squadron career assistance advisor, stood silently in front of his easel as jazz music drifted lazily in the background. The smell of paint permeated the air with a musty, if not dusty fragrance that tickled the nostrils and was a constant reminder that this was no ordinary garage. This was a studio, a place for artistic expression, and most of all, creation.

A once blue, paint-speckled tarp covered the concrete floor to catch the dripping and spilled paint. And in that small corner of the garage, piles of paintings threatened to eradicate the ever valuable floor space, and yet Santiago continuously paints more.

As an abstract expressionist, Santiago spends copious amounts of time working in his garage-studio. Painting for Santiago is about the journey.

"I like energy; I like the physical process of the painting," said Santiago. "It isn't necessarily about the end result; it's about the process for me. Sometimes I will pick a theme and sometimes I don't. It all depends on that moment."

Recently, several of his paintings were put on display at the Art Brut Gallery in Los Alamos.

"The gallery owner came over to my house a few weeks ago and saw all of my paintings," said Santiago. "He said he wanted two of my paintings for his gallery. Two days later I went over to the gallery and signed a contract and that was it."

Santiago takes much of his inspiration from his time growing up in New York City, where he was constantly surrounded by graffiti murals, and inspired to paint at an early age.

"I have been painting all my life. If I wasn't painting I was drawing," said Santiago. "My uncle was a graffiti artist; there was spray paint and cans all over the place. I used to go out with him and watch him paint. Graffiti was all over the place in the Bronx, there were canvasses everywhere. You can't ask for a bigger canvass then a train station."

When Santiago was stationed in Europe he traveled to the multitude of galleries available to him and was further inspired to pursue a style of art based on impressionists such as Monet and Van Gogh.

"I didn't get seriously into painting until I joined the military," said Santiago. "I bought paints and started discovering different styles, which to me was an eye opener.Though I am always drawn to the urban side of art and abstract expressionism and impressionism. I had the chance to visit a lot of galleries while I was stationed in Europe. I saw Van Gogh, Monet, Karel Appel, and De Kooning. I think my artwork has a different flavor of all four artists, but I will always be inspired by the energy involved in urban graffiti art."

Nearly six years ago Santiago was diagnosed with a late stage brain tumor, an acoustic neuroma, and went into surgery soon after. There was no guarantee that Santiago would survive the operation or what the effects on his life might be.

"We didn't know if I was going to make it back from that," said Santiago. "Art and painting helped me get better; they helped me overcome a lot of the stressors that I experienced."

Santiago's wife, Melinda Santiago 30th FSS accounting clerk is a strong advocate for his painting and how beneficial it is for him since the removal of the benign tumor.

"It started out as a hobby but it is something that he takes more seriously now," said Melinda. "It is a way for him to relieve stress. A couple years ago he had brain surgery and his art definitely helped him, and continues to help him, with his recovery."

The road to following his passion hasn't been without some trials or disagreements over garage real estate however, but ultimately Melinda is supportive every step of the way.

"In the beginning I had a problem with the messiness - paints and canvases were all over the place, but now he has his own area and that is something that he needs and we accept that," said Melinda. "I fully support him in his painting; it is something that he is passionate about. He asks for opinions and sometimes we agree and sometimes we disagree. But we are always talking about his next projects and his ideas. We discuss it all the time."

What started as a hobby and a way to relieve stress is now an integral part of Santiago.

"Apart from my family, and my faith in God, I definitely cannot live without art," said Santiago. "I have to paint and my family knows that, for my own sanity. It is my passion."