The world is not always a beautiful place. Artists from every generation have used art to encapsulate the twisted and the not-so-beautiful — from Salvador Dali’s mind-warping surrealist portraits to Jean-Michel Basquiat’s unpolished, abstract scrawlings. The beauty of art is that it is its own dimension. One in which reality and a person’s perception of it can exist concurrently. Anhia Santana, better known as Distortedd, leads the new generation of these fantastical artists, opening the window to her twisted imagination for her audience to peer through — and they cannot get enough.
Santana’s artwork draws from several wells of inspiration, the most apparent being the many classic 90’s cartoons characters she “distorts”. Childhood favorites such as Rugrats, Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Power Puff Girls have all been distorted, typically with the character re-imagined in a muddled palette of pastels and her trademark spiral eyes. In addition to reinterpreted animations, she has conjured up the likeness of Hip Hop figures, such as Action Bronson, Kanye West, and MF DOOM — the latter of which she admittedly listens to daily for inspiration. She was introduced to Hip Hop culture through her older brother during a brief residency in Dominican Republic as a child and cartoons as a self-proclaimed “Nickelodeon kid” during her formative years. These influences, coupled with her introverted, idiosyncratic nature growing up, has fostered the foundation of her celebrated oeuvre.
One look at Distortedd’s Twitter account affirms her followers’ unwavering support of her artwork as well as her appreciation of their support. Every new piece she reveals is met with adulation from her fanbase, all of which she humbly responds to. A simple question to her nearly 13,000 Twitter followers, such as “Who should I distort next?”, can easily amass over a hundred responses almost instantaneously. However, she’s very conscientious in regards to the source material which she distorts. “I think when you make art you’re showing appreciation to the culture [that it comes from] and the artist that created it before you. So I try to be respectful and know what it is that I’m drawing,” she explained over the phone. “So when [my followers suggest] stuff and I don’t know about it, I don’t go with it.” Her attentiveness and vast knowledge of the content which she draws from is apparent. For example, one of her Rugrats-inspired portraits depicts Reptar holding the decapitated head of Busta Rhymes, who unknown to many, voiced the imaginary dinosaur in 1998’s The Rugrats Movie.
The brand we now know as Distortedd was not the result of some grandiose, preconceived plan. After graduating from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Santana intended to pursue her Masters degree in Psychology. However, after garnering attention with the designs she created for her boyfriend’s clothing line, Bombardment, she decided to invest in herself, and establish her own brand.
In under five years she’s amassed a cult-like following, at times even serving as a muse to many of her own followers. “The first time someone drew me was probably two years ago. It was a young girl around 14 years old, who was an aspiring artist,” she recalled. “Each time someone does it, I’m so excited, it’s like it’s the first time.” Some have even gotten her iconic designs tattooed. “I love it!” she exclaimed, “It’s like a Distortedd movement.” She’s even received praised from the likes of her own muse, Action Bronson and even Erykah Badu who anointed her as “ILL” on Twitter.
This year alone she’s added some weighty milestones to her list of accolades including: being featured on Tumblr’s homepage, hosting a myriad of art shows, live painting murals at A3C and Art Basel Miami, creating a number of animated music videos for various rappers and making strides toward starting a line of Distortedd apparel. With a steadfast fanbase and immeasurable creative potential, Distortedd is well on her way to becoming a globally-recognized artist.