Andrew Salgado is a painter who lives and works in London. His works are memorable because of the raw emotion bleeding from his works. He has held exhibits all across the world, much owing to his daring, assertive aesthetic that pulls beauty out of wretchedness and identity out of numerousness. His style of painting is mainly derived from a cathartic incident in 2008 in which he found himself the victim of a hate crime. This drove him to explore the idea that the limits of physicality can be transcended by his material.
He was awarded Courvoisier’s Future 500, shortlisted for Art of Giving at London’s Saatchi Gallery, and featured in the Channel 4 (UK) documentary What Makes a Masterpiece alongside Anish Kapoor and Bridget Riley. Continue on to hear about his exploration of masculinity, the effect of the hate crime he experienced, his aggresive painting style, and his perspective of abstraction.
A major theme of your work is the notion of masculinity. You often display males with jarring faces in vulgar coloration. What is the intention of displaying men in this provocative manner?
For the past number of years I have been dealing with the concept of masculinity and—banally put—beauty, in a monstrous sense. I read a lot of art theory and one of my most marked influences has been Georges Bataille, who writes extensively on the correlation between animalism, violence, sexuality, and so forth. Further to this is my own interest in the male figure which, due to my own personal experience with hate-crime in 2008, has taken on a politicized bent. So I suppose this tendency to paint violent and vulnerable young men seems less ambiguous when the viewer is aware of this.
As for the color, or the notion of provocation—I suppose I tend to treat the canvas quite aggressively, and the method in which I paint and treat an image is quite…masculine, and visceral. I like subjects that provoke because I’m not interested in presenting the viewer with a ambivalent or ‘pleasant’ (in a pejorative sense) viewing experience. I want my art to arrest and inspire, anger and inform…I truthfully view my art as a political tool (perhaps a subversive one at that, but political nonetheless). The colors come naturally; I am drawn to vibrancy and intensity in the colors and I think this is another means to communicate certain emotions through an inanimate form. The stories I tell are formed somewhere between the canvas and the viewer and it is important that I consider every element of how the works are being perceived.
Your paintings are composed of seemingly disparate brush strokes that together make an image, a form of pointillism. Is there a reason you have decided to compose pieces this way?
I’m not certain if it’s a cognizant approach to piece works together in such a way. I’ve heard people comment that they feel like jigsaw puzzles, but for me, its less of placing fragments together as it is a causal and organic approach where short, flat brushes create large oblong shapes and drips with paint. Each painting is built up slowly and progressively with an experimental approach; I never know exactly where the piece will end up so I tend to have a lot of detritus and waste in the studio, but for me this is a process of growth. I have also been told that my painting is quite performative, because I really try to connect—physically—with the canvas. I don’t really do anything in the studio consciously once the paint comes out—everything that happens is momentary and just "feels right." I don’t like the idea that there should be some master plan to work…I like the idea that its all weighted on my mood, a reaction to me, physically…I like to play about in studio and I think the works are ever increasing examples of that. I’m becoming more fearless and with that the works tend to become more exciting as well.
You had an experience with a hate crime. What have you gained through composing these pieces that seem to explore male suffering? Is this why you painted a portrait of Jeffrey Dahmer?
My experience was a cathartic and a really traumatizing event, but it also happened in 2008….It was at the beginning of 2012 when preparing new works for an exhibition that I realized I had moved past the need to comment on this in my work. Prior to this, all my works dealt with that aspect of my life in some direct or allegorical way; but at a certain point, the work was only about that minutely, tangentially, and I didn’t want to keep belabouring a point. It would have bored me, and bored my viewer. I began taking a step outward—imagine a ripple effect, and looking at violence and masculinity externally, as an observer. It was for my show with Beers.Lambert Contemporary called The Misanthrope later that year that I took yet another step outward, and looked at hatred as a concept: what it was, why it existed, how it lurked inside all of us and where, why, and how it would rear its head. The twin portraits of Dahmer were painted to force myself to—as the painter—empathize with a subject that was so horrific himself. Lucien Freud once said that the painters ‘love of the subject’ is all he needs to drive him to paint; I believe that, and I wanted to challenge myself to find the good in such a reprehensible figure.
What role does abstraction take in your paintings? Why have you described it as the trajectory of your works?
I believe my pursuit as an artist is to straddle the line between figuration and abstraction. I abhor the term "portraiture"—because it doesn’t describe what I do. A portrait is a one-dimensional representation of a subject; I am concerned with the political and social and psychological aspects that operate extra-diegetically to my subject (that is the content) and then in terms of the form of the work, I am interested in purely abstract concepts: paint as a medium, and how my medium operates on the canvas, the topography of the surface, the composition, and all these purely material ideas about media that excite me. The brilliant thing about oil paint is that one never has mastery over such a medium; it is full of surprises, and each day I discover something new in my studio…so my trajectory is to continue to confound the reading between pure figuration and pure abstraction, and I don’t think that’s a question that I can ever answer.
What has been the most confrontational piece for you to compose and why?
Probably the most difficult work I’ve ever done was a second version of a piece I first did in 2008 after my assault. The original work (Bloody Faggot, 2008) was painted immediately after that event—it was large, angry, tragic, however its immaturity speaks volumes as a painting. 4 years later I returned to this same self-portrait with a desire to close that chapter for good. I did a small black on black study: focused, subtle, and concise. It was a very personal piece for me and allowed me to move on.
More recently I did a work called It Is the Fear that Keeps us Awake, or another piece called Anxious…I often believe all the clues to demystifying my work are always in the title. I often paint my partner, but I never paint for decorative purposes...I always have to have something to say, even if its not that terribly profound or grandiose, I just want my paintings to operate beyond their material confines. But I like challenges, and I like paintings that are hard for me to do, and for my viewer to recieve.
What projects do you have lined up for the future?
I'm now preparing works for 2 solo shows in Canada, including my first-museum show in my hometown and one at the end of 2013 in Cape Town, and I'm looking to step backwards even further. I've got a few tricks up my sleeves and I'm eager to see how and if I can pull them off.
Your Small Heart's Desire is opening May 3, 2013 at the La Petite Mort Gallery in Ottawa Canada. The Acquaintance opens October 9, 2013 at The Art Gallery of Regina, Canada. Also a forthcoming solo exhibition at Christopher Møller Fine Art, Cape Town, South Africa will appear in the beginning of 2014.