Known unknowns

“The unknown is central to my work. Unknown suggests a lack of knowledge or understanding, which inherently calls for a journey to a state of known. My art addresses the greatest and most profound “unknowns” of life: the nature of reality, experience, consciousness and the pursuit of it’s mysteries through science and the humanities.”

In this exclusive interview, Steve Sangapore discusses his work, which he dubs ‘Sci-Surrealism’, and its focus on the “known unknowns.”

Interview Questions from Richard Bright (Interalia Magazine) and Julia Buntaine (SciArt Magazine)

…And Then There Was Life, 24" x 30" x 2", Acrylic on canvas, 2014

Steve Sangapore: …And Then There Was Life, 24″ x 30″ x 2″, Acrylic on canvas, 2014

Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Steve Sangapore: I have had an interest in art and painting throughout my life but really focused on honing my craft while studying in college. After graduating from Albertus Magnus College in 2013 with a degree in Studio Art and Graphic Design, I moved to the Boston area in search of work opportunities and expanding my creative reach.  Since then I have focused on developing my style, strengthening my techniques and have been deeply focused on how I can further articulate the abstract subjects and themes found in my work.

Steve Sangapore: The Room. 48" x 36" x 2". Acrylic on canvas. 2013

Steve Sangapore: The Room. 48″ x 36″ x 2″. Acrylic on canvas. 2013

You describe your work as Sci-Surrealism. What do you mean by this? How does science and surrealism combine in your work?

Steve Sangapore: I have always been drawn to the genre of surrealism throughout my life. The style is well-suited for conveying abstract ideas and concepts without being vague or at times incoherent, which I find some modern abstraction to be. I am attracted to the idea that upon viewing a surrealist work, the viewer engages in something like a riddle. The idea is to present forms and shapes in which the viewer is responsible for developing relationships between. I call my work Sci-Surrealism because the subjects and forms I often use are archetypes found within the realms of biology, cosmology and philosophy. I blend this imagery into a surrealist style.

Steve Sangapore: Virtuality, 44" x 32" x 2", Acrylic on 6 angled canvases, 2015

Steve Sangapore: Virtuality, 44″ x 32″ x 2″, Acrylic on 6 angled canvases, 2015

Steve Sangapore: Virtuality (angled right)  44" x 32" x 2", Acrylic on 6 angled canvases, 2015

Steve Sangapore: Virtuality (angled right) 44″ x 32″ x 2″, Acrylic on 6 angled canvases, 2015

Surrealism sought a revolution against the constraints of the rational mind and in doing so borrowed techniques from psychoanalysis to bring to the surface subconscious thoughts to stimulate their writing and art. What part does the subconscious play in your work?

Steve Sangapore: With my work, I think that the subconscious plays a larger role with the viewer rather than with me and where I am getting stimulation and inspiration. I believe that when a viewer sees one of my paintings, the message is probably immediately obvious on a less conscious level, at least at first. I think people understand my work on an abstract and conceptual level before it can be articulated in words why they identify with it. I think this comes from the brain immediately identifying that the forms and subjects are linked, but the conscious mind is relied on to process and articulate the more sophisticated details and relationships between them.

Steve Sangapore: Quintessence, 34" x 32" x 3", Acrylic on 10 angled canvases, 2016

Steve Sangapore: Quintessence, 34″ x 32″ x 3″, Acrylic on 10 angled canvases, 2016

Quintessence (angled)
Quintessence detail)
Quintessence (detail)
Quintessence (detail)


You have stated that “The unknown is at the epitome of my work…..[my art] addresses the greatest and most profound “unknowns” of life: the nature of reality, experience, consciousness and the pursuit of its mysteries through science and the humanities.” As with science, do you regard your work as attempting to make the ‘unknown’ known?

Steve Sangapore: I cannot make the unknown known if I do not know it. Donald Rumsfield said in 2002, “there are known knowns: things we know we know, known unknowns: things we know we don’t know, and unknown unknowns, things we don’t know we don’t know.” Though his statement at the time had little to do with science or philosophy and was in regard to the Iraq War, the idea is very relevant in the scientific, philosophical and creative realms. Everything in life and experience is essentially an unknown unknown at its deepest and most elementary level. What does it mean to know something? Is there an objective reality or truth, or just infinite points of reference and perception? Our day to day lives are mostly spent in the shallow end of the thought pool – filled with surface-level thoughts and superficial concepts. My creative attempt is to break that superficial tunnel of reality which is often dominated by the ego and engage the viewer in a dialogue where he or she is reminded of the human condition.  My focus is the known unknowns, or things that we are aware of but do not and may not ever understand.

Steve Sangapore: Omneity, 40" x 14" x 7", Acrylic on triangular canvas, 2015

Steve Sangapore: Omneity, 40″ x 14″ x 7″, Acrylic on triangular canvas, 2015

The subject of your latest work involves “the mysterious and inherent duality between consciousness and matter“. Can you say more about this?

Steve Sangapore: My latest series titled Omneity focuses on several subjects like this. In this series, I have been exploring differences in what we perceive to be conscious or unconscious. We often divide the universe into two basic categories: life and non-life. My attempt is to unify these two elements and show that perhaps we are understandably but ignorantly making an unnecessary division between the two.

Steve Sangapore: Omneity. 40" x 14" x 7". Acrylic on triangular canvas. 2015 (detail)

Steve Sangapore: Omneity. 40″ x 14″ x 7″. Acrylic on triangular canvas. 2015 (detail)

At this point in my life, I identify with the thought that I am a mechanism in a material and deterministic universe rather than being a conscious agent of freewill. Every moment of reality is determined by the motion and material workings of the last with a possible regression back to the origins of time. Rather than the origins of life and consciousness being a pivotal moment where cold material fills with warmth and awareness, the origin is a material development in which conscious awareness is something like an illusory by-product of material workings dominated by laws and causality. In my paintings, I think that one can gather the message that either everything in the universe is conscious or nothing is.

What is your first memory?

I have various memories around the time my younger brother was born.

Steve Sangapore: The Place. 40" x 30" x 2". Acrylic on canvas. 2014

Steve Sangapore: The Place. 40″ x 30″ x 2″. Acrylic on canvas. 2014



It is the duty of the 21st century artist not to represent the world as mankind already sees it, but rather how we feel and think about it. Instead of directly representing life, it is the painter’s obligation to represent what a setting or object subjectively feels like in that moment. In the digital age of science, technology and reason, I can think of no grander creative subject than exploring the nature of reality and conscious experience.

I dub my work as Sci-Surrealism; a contemporary take on the surrealist approach while fusing themes in science and philosophy. The mysterious and inherent duality between consciousness and matter is the direct subject of my latest work. Using metaphor to convey relationships between identifiable objects and forms, I illustrate a sense of universal oneness: connectivity between matter and the conscious experience in contexts of micro and macroscopic spaces. Using a hard-edged and illustrative style, these dense themes demand a disciplined technique and great attention to detail.

Each painting connects the tangible impermanence of matter with transcendental, spiritual unity through shape, depth, texture and arrangement. As a result, the works will rouse the audience to unearth and illuminate mankind’s indelible state of unknowing and curiosity for what we experience as life and reality.


All images courtesy and copyright of Steve Sangapore

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