"THE SUBJECTS HERE RAISE QUESTIONS: THEY ARE BLACK, TRANS, WOMEN, GAYS. IT'S ALL MY FREAKS AND GEEKS JAMMING OUT TOGETHER."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practicing artist and where did you study?
I tend to run the opposite direction from this question because the more I answer it, I fear the more pedestrian the answer becomes. I'm 33, a Canadian born and raised, half-Mexican artist who has lived in London for almost 10 years. I studied at Chelsea College of art and they told me to stop painting, strip my clothes off, and make videos. I think every decent artist goes through that naked-performance art stage. I've been working "professionally" (I hate this terminology) for ten years. We are releasing my first monograph, appropriately titled TEN, and its this spectacular 300 page archive of my work. There are various texts and a section at the back with macro details. Shameless plug warning: you can purchase it now off my website.
Your more recent work pushes the figure towards the background, adding shapes and marks on top, almost like you are trying to erase or cover up the original painting. Could you tell us about this change in direction?
I think I have a certain encroaching desire to run from my figurative foundation. Or at least pull the wool over its proverbial eyes. Yes the new works have a...sort of... need to push the figure into some other terrain. For some time I've felt unsatisfied as a conventional figurative artist. I mean, god forbid I get the dreaded 'portrait artist' label. The works want to explore new areas but I still have some perplexing, almost debilitating need to include the figure. Is that my strength or my weakness? I dont know. I think a painting like Echo Chamber, for instance, treats the figure like an abstract landscape. There are psychological explorations happening that are more important than the accuracy of the figure. For me, a piece like Orlando is a glowing success. I don't say that often. But when psychology and message and technique all tend to unravel into an ugly little pile on the floor, I've succeeded.
Is there a biographical narrative to your work?
There was. I mean...the impetus for all my work - well, for my whole career, really - has been the 2008 hate-crime assault. So since then the work has kind of inhabited this political bent. I'm not going to tell you that I'm trying to change the world, but I'm decidedly vocal about my work, its LGBT background, and its message. The entire Snake exhibition (opening Nov 11 at Beers London) is based on on the Orlando massacre: the single largest mass murder in US history and effectively the largest hate-crime ever. That says something about where we are as people and as a society. I would wake up each morning to horrific hate-related crimes happening all over the world - to Jews, Syrians, gays, women, blacks, and on and on and on. I had no choice but to respond to how it made me feel. I don't believe in prejudice; I can't stand for hatred on any level. Suddenly, we have Brexit, and the looming threat of Trump - the world's most powerful bigot since Hitler. I met a new subject named Bari and he was a young Muslim raised gay boy and everything clicked: the resulting painting is included in this show and its called Lets Start a War. I had to talk about these things. I was compelled to talk about hatred. I've done this topic before, 2012's The Misanthrope, et cetera. But now it was turned outward. Is that autobiographical? I guess it is, inasmuch as universal misanthropy affects us all. The subjects here raise questions: they are black, trans, women, gays. Its all my freaks and geeks jamming out together.
What do you hope the viewer gains/reacts from looking at your work?
I like to create a complicated relationship with the viewer. I don't want the works to be easy to consume. I want them to be challenging. If I didn't, I wouldn't grow as an artist. And I think my work has had significant and substantial growth since I started gaining a bit of attention. Ideally, the viewer leaves feeling challenged. Maybe even a bit confused. I remember the first time I saw Peter Doig's work in person and the sheer texture and dimensionality of the paintings forced me to reconsider them in a way I previously hadn't (while looking at works in books or on a computer screen). I want the viewer to ask the pertinent questions. Lets bring kids into the show and have them ask their parents about acceptance. I'm not pretending to be some sort of social justice crusader; I just feel strongly about these things. Plus I want people to be a bit scared by the work. The gallery is being transformed: we've carpeted the floor with grass and painted the walls and ceiling dark green. The lights are dim...its an experience. I want it to be meditative, seductive, almost dangerous. I want the viewer to lose themselves in this poetic space and really think about what it is they're seeing. I think the works are a bit wacky this time around.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
I buy lots of art. I recently bought a Peter Matthews drawing. I love Tal R. There was a piece at Artissima that I wanted to buy but I didn't have 78,000Euro kicking around. Bummer. I've been looking at some Peter Linde Busk and Gauguin. Sverre Bjertnes is a total dude and he's opening next year at Beers, which is amazing to think I share a gallery with someone I respect so profoundly.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
I work all the time. Its where I belong. My studio is in London Fields and its nearly 1,000 sq feet. I'm quite fortunate. But I believe as artists we need to have highly functional creative spaces. My studio is always a mess. I have pet mice.
How do you go about naming your work?
I used to name them really simply and didactically. That itself was a response to these longwinded sort of wanky titles we use as young wanky artists. So titles were like, suggestive and basic. Subject, Cinema, Prussian Blue, Scheveningen Grey, Hommage, Notes, Birdy, The Joke. Blah blah blah. The new works are a little more telling: Chrysalis (Portrait of a Girl) is a painting of a trans friend. I've stuck butterflies onto the painting which might be a bit naff but it made sense to me at the time. Warmask; Afterlife; Lazarus (In the Temple of Giotto). I dunno, working titles stick. let people think what they want to think. I'm not here to tell you what a painting is about. You're entitled to take your own reading so long as you're not an asshole and your reading is against what I stand for as a human being. haha. I'm trying to come up with a title for my forthcoming exhibition in Croatia but Kurt (Beers, from Beers London) doesn't want me to call it Contemporary Pleasure Island Time Waster.
What does the future hold for you as an artist? Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
This January the Gallery of the Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square in London is hosting a survey exhibition to coincide with the launch of my monograph, both titled TEN. It is curated by David Liss, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. That's really exciting for me. The works range from 2006-2016. Well if I get my way, Contemporary Pleasure Island Time Waster will open middle of May at Lauba Contemporary Art Institute in Zagreb Croatia; I've invited artist Rhys Lee to make new sculpture to accompany my paintings and we are doing an install that is going to blow people's minds. Lauba is enormous and my mind runs amok with the possibilities. My first show back in my native Canada, Back to the Country, will open October 13 at Angell Gallery in Toronto, Canada. Jamie Angell has been around for 20 years and he's a veritable legend on the Canadian art scene. I'm planning something sensational for an art fair in NYC in 2018 that will be a really next level install.
You can see Salgado's solo show "The Snake" at BEERS London, ends 17th December.
Publish date: 25/11/16
All images courtesy of Beers London and Andrew Salgado