Oh God, I’m in love. Or I just want to be her. Lying casually on her side on a bed in a pulled-up gray t-shirt, her manner screams insouciant, effortless sex appeal. Her brown hair spreads out across the white sheet in loose waves, her bedroom eyes gaze into mine lazily. Her lips are a natural pink, slightly pursed. A sun-shaped tattoo sits over a perfect, bare ass cheek. One hand is up in her hair as the other pulls on a silver heart pendant that hangs from her neck.
“The Heart” is a mixed media painting done by local photographer and painter Santodonato. He uses real local women as models, so maybe I’ll bump into that sultry brunette at a bookstore or coffee shop. She seems more that type than the Playboy or Tryst variety, but I could be wrong.
Santodonato, also known as Scott Philip Santos, finds his models through his primary business venture: he is the owner, chief photographer and sometime contributing writer for Strip Las Vegas magazine, which he founded with his wife, Brittany Santos.
While the magazine includes articles—recent features included “Walking Behind The Green Door” and “Frank Marino—Queen of Las Vegas”—the pages are full of titillating and often ultra graphic pictures worthy of a porn mag. Some of the half-naked women are, in fact, porn actresses or models, and some are local women with no credentials other than their good looks.
“I’m constantly solicited by women who want to be in the magazine,” says Santodonato. “On a daily basis I’ll probably get between 20 and 30 submissions. That’s how I get my models.”
He says only 10 to 15 percent have the right look—or “feeling,” as he puts it, to make it into the magazine or onto his canvas.
“I’m really picky because she really has to turn me on,” says Santodonato. “I have to be somewhat attracted to her … It’s not one look so much as a feeling.”
Once Santodonato has found the right model, he schedules a photo shoot at his small home studio. The sets are closed, meaning no husbands, boyfriends, friends or art directors—just him, the model and a makeup artist.
“I try to have very intimate settings where the people can feel free to really let loose and show themselves,” he says. “ I want to see that in their eyes and I want to feel who they are in their heart.”
Santodonato provides the clothes, which could be lingerie, a sundress or just jeans and a T-shirt, which he thinks is “just as sexy as anything.” He tells the makeup artist exactly what he wants. “I’ve been told by the makeup artists that I’m very weird, because I’ll ask for very specific things or I take a long time looking at the girl making sure the hair is just right, then I style the shot myself.”
He plays music “to get my headspace in the right place and hopefully the model’s in the right place” and then works on getting the right angle. “I don’t ever shoot on a tripod because I always want to be moving to different angles, finding that angle where the person looks the best, capturing that moment.”
Although he preconceives a precise vision, Santodonato is open to going with the flow. “It’s liquid enough that it could change drastically, like 180 degrees,” he says. “The ultimate thing is to get the girl—I want to see her through her eyes and I want her to feel her soul and her heart and I want her to feel and look sexy. You can’t say all blondes are beautiful; it’s not a Playboy thing where they basically do the same pose for every centerfold. It has to change for the individual person and I have to be liquid enough to capture that.”
Sometimes the closed set, the music and the flow take the creative sessions in unexpected, but pleasant, directions.
In his painting “The Lovers” two women are engaged in gorgeous foreplay. Their bodies pressed against each other, one tugs on her lover’s diamond necklace with her teeth while her lover pulls on her panties. Their dynamics and chemistry are real. Santodonato just happened to be there and possess the talent to capture it.
“There was definitely a sexual attraction between those girls,” Santodonato says. “I even think they were lovers at some point. I kind of got out of the way and let them interact and kiss each other and be free and get intimate and I just tried to capture it. They were really into each other. It was really cool.”
After a 10-hour photo shoot, Santodonato selects the best picture, spruces it up in Photoshop, reproduces it on canvas, stretches the canvas out and then paints over the image with oil paints. The entire process takes about a month.
Santodonato, who started painting about two years ago, has completed 40 paintings, some of which are on display until the end of August at the Erotic Heritage Museum. Previously, they were exhibited during the fall of 2008 at the Galleria di Sorrento at Caesars Palace.
The paintings catch your eye not only because they are beautiful and provocative, but because they are large, around 52” by 40”. “I like painting in good size so it can take up a nice wall in your house and be a focal point,” the artist says.
Each piece is an original. “I want people to experience it and get involved with it and feel it and have originals where they can actually feel the texture,” Santodonato says. “There will never be duplicates.”
In addition to being a painter, photographer and publisher, Santodonato is an accomplished musician. He has played piano and guitar since the age of three and went on to engineer and mix recording sessions for numerous artists including Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker and Jon Bon Jovi. He has also written jingles for the likes of Ford, HBO, ABC and Kentucky Fried Chicken and currently writes scores and soundtracks for movies. He has toured with several bands, including Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, the Verve Pipe, Joan Jett and Cyndi Lauper and owns and operates an independent record label called Overcore, which produced several successful records in the ‘90s, including Kid Rock’s last independent record before he signed with Atlantic.
- Beyond the Weekly
In Las Vegas, Santodonato is also heavily involved with the Riviera show Crazy Girls for which he works behind the scenes, maintaining the website, handling the store and merchandise line and shooting all the pictures and video. He recently wrapped up a pole dancing instructional video with the show that will be out next week, and Santodonato has been traveling all over the country working on opening and marketing the new Crazy Girl Café chain.
“I’m very, very busy,” he admits. “You’ve got to keep busy when you are in the creative field.”
Santodanato is a rare creature, a modern Renaissance man who combines acute business acumen with an artist’s insight.
“I want to keep getting better,” he says. “I want [my art] to move me in some way and I want to feel some emotion from it or it’s no good; it’s got to go in the garbage.”
And of course, he’s in no danger of running out of inspiration.
“I love women and think they’re beautiful creatures,” he says. “I’m inspired by human eyes and souls and hearts. I think everyone has beauty and my whole thing as a photographer and as an artist is I really want to find that beauty and bring it out.”