• Amrit Sooch

Art is Art



One Spring afternoon, 28-year-old Santosh Hass went on a bike ride. He wandered through the small town of Modesto, California — the place he was born and raised. It was occupied by small businesses and landmarks deemed notable by those who resided there. Hass took in the vibes of his surroundings as the soothing vernal breezes gently wiped the sweat from his sun-soaked brow. Abruptly, his interest was caught by a nearby art gallery. Hass was an abstract painter and wanted to inquire about the requirements needed for an artist to be represented on their walls. Upon entry, he stumbled across an uncomfortable encounter.

“We only admit serious artists,” replied the wizened gallery attendant after taking one look at him.

Hass felt judged. The woman knew nothing about him. She was totally ignorant of the skills he possessed let alone how serious of a painter he was. He felt a strong sense of tacit unwelcoming at this location. Vexed, the aspiring artist of color left the building.


At another gallery, Hass was told that his art had to fit under a certain mold of color usages and styles which was heavily influenced by European art. They also told him that they only took plein-air paintings and that he should go through schooling to understand what art really was. To his surprise, the individual telling him all of this hadn’t even had the education that she was advising. What Hass had learned from his art education at CSU Stanislaus, was that art was a portrayal of an individual’s emotions and persona sublimely translated through textures of viscous or runny hues on a canvas. The hues could be presented as landscapes depicted in open-air art or abstract shapes and colors constructed by the imagination. Art was something an on-looker could feel a soul connection with. Art was art.

One can observe the influence of Hass’s religion and Indian heritage in his artwork. When walking into a Hindu temple, one is submerged with swirls and patterns of vim colors dancing across every inch of the walls. He shared that he embraces his culture by variegating his canvases with bright, contrasting colors commonly used in Indian art and clothing. It was the usage of these unusual color patterns that captured the attention of the Mistlin Gallery. This is where he had the privilege of showcasing his work for the first time. Hass was delighted and his close friend, Juan Telles, was at the zenith of happiness.

On the day of the debut, Hass and Telles were zeal to witness the colorful “Carnival” (below) on the gallery’s tall white walls. Inside, the exhibit was hushed with a very low vibrational frequency. All that was heard was a small violin orchestra seated in the center of the gallery. They barely touched their strings as they played their melodious tunes. Although they wanted to discuss the art pieces and express their emotions, Hass and Telles matched the ambiance of their surroundings to venerate the culture of the exhibit.


Quiet reflection while viewing art (as practiced in the Mistlin gallery) is one of the many vestiges of colonialism passed down in modern American art culture. From the requirements set by certain galleries to the subliminal assumptions that upscale Caucasians “truly” had the ability to comprehend art, it is unequivocal that exhibits are conditioned by early European concepts. It might not be intentional; however, it has been embedded in the art world and still directly affects many artists of color.

Hass, Telles, and Kristina Farias observed the demographics of those who gathered in art exhibits. They found that

most gallery-goers were an older crowd of Caucasian origin. It was not as common to see people of color enter gallery doors. The reason for this? Artists of color are not featured as much as their white comrades. Until galleries acknowledge that ethnic art is not given equal representation on gallery walls, they will be faced with a continuous decrease of visitors from the nation’s diverse population.


The scarcity of multicultural artwork in American art culture inspired an idea for Hass, Telles, and Farias to yoke together and initiate Shades of Brown. Shades of Brown is an organization that hosts art events all over the Modesto area. Their goal is to create a comfortable space for artists of various cultural backgrounds to showcase their diversity through forms of art. They also have a vision of opening their own art exhibit in the future where they hope to inspire people of every background to get involved in the art world through classes and workshops. Hass has ideas in the group. His restless, creative mind is always thinking of new ways to involve people in the community. He is the mastermind behind discovering new people to network with and directly works with the artists admitted to the events. Due to his personal experience as an artist of color, he is able to connect with other aspiring artists on a personal level. His weakness is that he has a terrible habit of second-guessing himself. This is where Telles comes in.


Telles (or Thick Daddy as they call him) is the anchor of the group. He reinforces positive thinking. Whenever his team is down, he likes to give them a pep talk and reminds them why they’re powerful individuals, as he says. Through his positive energy, Telles has the ability to bring people together and inspire them to unleash their full potential. He is also straight to the point with what he wants to convey to whomever he is communicating with. This is what makes him so successful at bringing in an audience at events.

Kristina maintains the balance in the group. She is calm and collected when handling every situation and brings the feminine fire to the group dynamic. Kristina is also the mastermind behind the organization of the events. She was the vice president of Mecha (an organization that celebrates Latino culture) at Modesto Junior College, so she brings in her skills and experience from organizing those events to Shades of Brown.

Though Shades of Brown has nothing but good intentions, they have received a little bit of backlash. they have been advised to change the name of their organization in case one may become offended by it. Shades of Brown simply means that everyone is a pigment of brown at the end of the day. Whether we are ivory or ebony, we are all on the spectrum of brown.

Shades of Brown hosts art events all over the Modesto area. On Saturday, September 15th, they are hosting an art exhibit at TNK Vegan Café at 330 Needham Street, Modesto California. The event will be from six o’clock to eight o’clock PM. Bring your family and friends to view professional works and create pieces of your own. Follow @s.o.br on Instagram to stay updated with new events.

Photography by Kristina Farias:







Videos by Juan Telles:




No Thought Collection by Santosh Hass:











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