Andrew Salgado is widely considered to be one of the most eminent emerging artists of North America. Saatchi has named him as “One to invest in today.” Exhibiting in the USA, UK, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Korea, Australia, Venezuela, Germany, and Scandinavia his work has been connecting with people from all over the world. Salgado’s artwork is beautiful and dazzling, but his work encapsulates much darker tones than his colour palette would lead you to believe. Being the victim of a viscous hate crime, because of his heritage, fuelled Salgado’s need to shed light on an abysmal societal condition. His artwork stands as a conduit for him to communicate his emotions regarding some of the worst parts of humanity. Learn more about the story behind this emotional, and stunning artwork.
Tell us about yourself.
I’m 32, Canadian. Born and raised in Regina, Saskatchewan. I have an undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia and in 2009 I completed a Master’s degree at Chelsea College of Art in London, UK, where I’ve lived ever since. I’m actually half Mexican. Fun facts? Oh man…the only thing that comes to mind is that I broke my painting arm in 2012 before my first solo-exhibition in London; my gallerist (Kurt Beers of Beers London www.beerslondon.com) had to come into the studio to help me mix paint in order to finish. It wasn’t easy. To be totally honest I don’t do much beside paint, sleep, and drink…probably in that order too.
You mention that your artworks explore the concept of identity – can you tell us more about that?
I feel that if you’re working with the figure, you’re always dealing with identity. There’s simply no escaping that reality. Often people ask me why I don’t do more self portraits, but since the entire process of painting is quite self-indulgent, solipsistic even, I feel like the self-portraits need to come sporadically, and only when I have something to say particularly about myself. I recently completed one called When I Grow Up which was the last work for my current series but brought in so many new ideas about painting that it really feels like an open door.
WHEN I GROW UP
Lately my concerns are about the paint itself, and the figure is coming as secondary to that. Someone asked me the other day, then, why still the need to paint the figure at all? My response was pretty simple, because I want to. I like the figure, and what he suggests. I think so, yes, but I also think that this has really given way to a discussion about paint. Ideas about making and painting continue to arise in the paintings in a way that hadn’t previously. I think the best way that I’ve managed to articulate this is by saying: it is not to say that the figure is becoming less important, but it is to say that the backgrounds, and these extraneous ideas, are becoming more important. I’m constantly looking at new ways to discuss identity. In Orpheo, for instance, the figure is effectively not painted. The purpose was that she remain flat, and the detritus rise around her, elevating these things that are typically relegated to a subordinate role, to one that is more central.
What made you feel the need to explore this concept, and to paint it?
In 2008 I was the victim of a hate-crime when I was jumped by 8 men in Pemberton BC, in the daylight at some music festival. I suddenly became anchored. I was confused, hurt, angry. I said: ‘what can make a total stranger hate another so profoundly as to want to inflict actual physical pain upon them?’ Call me naïve, but prior to that event, I lived in a little, sheltered, happy bubble. A lot came to the surface for me and my art was a way to explore that conflict. It still is, and though I’m not still harping on about these same ideas all these years later, my work still talks a lot about misanthropy, mob-mentality, convalescence and vulnerability. My most recent body of work is titled This is Not the Way to Disneyland (Beers London at Volta Basel, Jun 2015) and that title was taken from the words spoken by a 13-year old victim of child rapist and serial killer William Bonin who terrorirzed Southern California in the ‘80s with four (get that, four) of his cronies. The question is not “how does one maniac rape and kill young boys?” but instead “how is it that five separate individuals became complicit to these horrific acts? That is literally hell on earth. We live that, as a society. These ideas are important to me, because, this is a rude awakening from the party, a realization like that. You’re a Canadian website, we have our own monsters…Bernardo and Homolka, Col. Russell Williams. It’s a rude awakening but I think its important to be vocal about scary things and art allows me a conduit to do that. Lately I’m all over ‘mental illness’ as someone who has dealt with depression and anxiety. Why don’t we talk about this? Why is it so stigmatized? Why is it even called an ‘illness?’ Art is awareness.
Do most viewers “get it” or do they end up taking their own meaning? How do you feel about this?
That sounds so arrogant, doesn’t it? My intentions and stories are only one aspect. I don’t really like to push my meaning on the viewer. I like them to take what they want from the works. Some people see Mickey Mouse in the corner of a painting and want to think this is a cheerful reminder – they don’t want to think about how Walt Disney was a misogynist and anti-Semite, the cult behind the castle, so to speak. I prefer it when they take their own meaning, and when they share this with me. I sound quite aggressive, don’t I? I’m not always like this. Haha.
What is the most memorable experience you’ve had at one of your shows?
I remember one time in 2012 when someone was in tears about the work. I’ve never really understood how it has the power to move people, but that’s a powerful thing to acknowledge. I have conviction, and the paintings come from a place of sincerity and passion, and sometimes that connects with people. That to me is so profound.
How do you choose your subjects? Who are your muses?
I like strangers. Because, as I’ve said before, I can use the subjects in any way I want…its less about them and – frankly – more about me and my intentions. I often say that I’m like a vampire, its so selfish, I love them and leave them, haha. But really I have a deep connection with my subjects on what is almost a superficial level, which is an oxymoron but I get to ‘know’ them on some level to such an in-depth degree, but they’re conduits for me to talk about different things. I sometimes fixate on someone, and paint them over and over, but its an exploration through paint.
Take us through your creative process – how does the painting go from concept to canvas?
Things often stew upstairs for a long time before making their way to canvas. I take lots of notes (but I don’t do studies) before I start…visual, mental, written notes. Eventually these ideas formulate together and become paintings. Ideas often change and evolve over time, but a lot of ideas are circular and sometimes will recur years later, without me even being totally aware of it. They’re operating somehow subconsciously. One painting, ‘Oh!’ was inspired by a conical children’s paper party hat that was lying on my studio floor. Years ago I had a breakthrough with a painting as a result of a cover of Modern Painters magazine which carried the same color scheme and somehow unlocked the puzzle. I explore. I like to think of myself as a scientist playing in a lab: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Surprises and accidents are crucial to the evolution of the work. Lots of times young painters will ask me about my technique, which is such a bizarre question, I’m always like “I don’t know, I just paint it and hope it doesn’t suck”
What has been your biggest challenge as an artist?
How have you overcome it, or how do you deal with it?
Every day has to be a challenge. I always say that “an artist’s worst enemy is a false sense of security in the studio” I have no time for back-patters, or to pat myself on the back. These artists who walk into the studio without ever critically reexamining what they are doing and why? Where the work doesn’t change year after year? Fuck off. Quit.
Why do you paint?
Because I have to!
What can we expect to see from you next?
My next solo outing is with Beers over Art Basel in Miami, in December. I’m doing another new body of work, tentatively titled Youth In Trouble, which will be accompanied by a monograph of my work by the same name. I’ve suddenly switched to linen, and things are becoming cruder, uglier, less and less and less refined. Someone called them dirty paintings the other day, and I loved that. I was like, “yes! They are dirty!” I also think the element of surprise is crucial. There has to be change. There has to be an evolution. My favorite compliment is when people pick up on this growth between the bodies of work. I like to keep things up in the air, and start to pick them up wherever they land. The further away from where I expected them to be is usually better, even though it scares the shit out of me along the way.