We meet Andrew Salgado, the youngest artist to be selected for a retrospective at the Canadian High Commission.
This month, Andrew Salgado will become the youngest artist to be featured by the Canadian High Commission. At just 34 years old, he’s already had 11 sold out shows and has appeared in exhibitions all across the globe. His rapid rise within the art world has been accomplished through his exquisite portraiture, which is formed through a diversity of lines and shapes to create the finished product that unlike anything else making the rounds on the Canadian art scene. With an artistic style that’s hard to pin down (“I wish I knew” he tells us when we ask him to describe is artistic style), it’s his distinctive technique that makes him one of the most innovative voices of contemporary art world.
For his upcoming retrospective, aptly named ‘Ten’, the exhibit will explore the last ten years of Salgado’s work, offering art-lovers the unique opportunity to explore the painters’ creative progression throughout his vibrant career. You can expect to see some of Salgado’s much-discussed work, including ‘Bloody Faggot’ which he birthed as a reaction to being a victim a hate crime and ‘Pretender’ which he created following a friend’s near-death experience. Behind each painting is a unique story, with every collection coming together to create a bigger narrative that viewers can digest and interpret in their own way.
Ahead of the ‘Ten’ opening to the public, we grabbed a moment with Andrew to talk about his career so far.
When did you first get interested in painting?
I was always interested in painting – even as a kid. I was one of those odd, kinda girly, kinda awkward kids that would fake sick for soccer practice but was like, enrolled in pottery classes and making Tiffany lamps at 11 years old. I mean, in the end it worked out for me but I was a private kid. I had a little playroom as a child and would just spend all day drawing and painting and playing with LEGO. I think it makes sense that as an adult, I’m basically doing the same thing. Realistically, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I had a seminal two years with a teacher who pushed me to pursue my art further. Prior to that I had always considered art as a hobby… I mean, I come from a family of academics; you just didn’t go into university for painting…the thought that I might pursue a Fine Arts degree was pretty frowned upon at first. My parents’ friends would ask me what I was taking in university and then there would be this awkward conversational limbo when I had to clarify that I was taking ‘Fine Arts’ and not ‘Finance’. Its just always been the most defining characteristic about me. I’ve often said that without art, I’m nobody. I’m a non-person. Talk about co-dependency!
What does it mean to you to be the youngest artist ever selected by the Canadian High Commission?
It’s a crazy, huge honor to be selected to exhibit there. To be the youngest artist just gives me more resolve. I think as artists, we have a natural tendency to second-guess our purpose and ability. What is the point of it all, that kind of self-doubt. I think its exacerbated for me as well because my working methods are so insular: I lock myself in my studio for 4, 5, 6 months at a time and nobody but my gallerist, my assistant, my partner, and one of my closest friends sees any of the work in progress… So of course there are emotional and psychological ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’re at the peak of the rollacoaster, thinking, okay, I am definitely on to something here, but other days are not as positive. I guess this is a very roundabout way of answering your question by saying that it gives me resolve and confidence that I’m doing something right. I always say I’m not sure if its conviction or stupidity, but I’ve got it in spades. I think as people we often suffer from this idea of ‘imposter syndrome’… you know, what if someone finds out that I’m actually completely uncertain of what I’m doing. I made a painting called “Pretender” in 2014 that sort of addressed that issue. You hear a lot of professionals talk about this – but this survey show, along with the release of my first monograph was perhaps the first time I looked at my assistant and said, oh my god. This is real. I’m a real artist. It’s a funny realisation. The word professional sounds so silly but I guess that’s what I have to call myself now, haha.
Your work sometimes explores you own personal experiences, would you say that you use painting as an emotional outlet?
I was a victim of a hate-related assault in 2008. It anchored my work and painting was my catharsis. It allowed me to convalesce beyond the purely physical scars. There were a series of paintings at the time that dealt directly with that incident, I was finally able to close the door with a second version of a piece called “Bloody Faggot” (2011). In fact, it was the only piece that I insisted the curator include in the survey exhibition for the High Commission show. I’ve always used it as such. I get antsy if I have to be away from my studio for too long.
Tell us about where your inspiration comes from.
As a younger artist I used to think inspiration had to come from some divine fount. Like, everything had to be big, operatic, melodramatic. As I mature, inspiration comes from smaller, more intimate sources. Sometimes it’s a conversation; a song; a poem; a memory; or even silly things…I did a painting called “Oh!” Which was inspired by a kid’s paper party hat that I found in my studio. My exhibition “The Fool Makes a Joke at Midnight” was inspired by the death of David Bowie and the resulting painting was called “Sound & Vision”. Sometimes the subject provides inspiration…my favourite subject is painter Sandro Kopp, who is also Tilda Swinton’s partner. I don’t like the word ‘muse’ because I think its overused, but he, along with model and friend Anna Cleveland, were the original sources of inspiration for my show “The Snake”. That eventually evolved into something much bigger…the show discussed homophobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and I even painted my first transgender subject in “Chrysalis (Portrait of a Girl)”. Little things can become bigger things, but “The Snake” took me to darker places that I was fully prepared to go. Lately, installation has been integral to the reading of the work. The paintings are stretching their limbs beyond their own confines. I just want to let them breathe, and take me on a journey that is more irreverent. I don’t want to be so political right now. The world is ugly enough, I want to have fun and make people smile. For my next show, I’m keeping my head above the water. I’ve asked Australian artist Rhys Lee to make sculptures to accompany my paintings, and we’re doing a show called “A Room With A View of the Ocean”. My assistant is currently sourcing lemon yellow furniture…if that tells you anything. Right now I’m inspired by freedom. Possibility. The idea of an endless horizon. That gives me room to experiment.
“As a younger artist I used to think inspiration had to come from some divine fount. Like, everything had to be big, operatic, melodramatic. As I mature, inspiration comes from smaller, more intimate sources”
In your opinion, what is your best/favourite work and why?
I mean, this is really a trick question. Its Sophie’s Choice, isn’t it? I love them all, for different reasons. From the last show, “Echo Chamber” speaks to me. But I’ve said that “Afterlife” was the soul of the show. “The Dancing Serpent” was the heart. “Orlando” was an important piece. I mean, if they don’t have something, they don’t leave the studio. Sometimes they get torn apart in really dramatic gestures. Then lately I’ve been stitching these bits back into other works like some artistic version of Ed Gein. That’s kind of an unsavoury analogy, isn’t it?
Tell us about the creative process around each work.
I’m very fortunate that I have a massive studio, so I compare my creative process to a bathtub filling up, as opposed to stacking building blocks. One painting informs the next, and vice versa, and then back again, like an Orouboros. I typically take 6 months to complete a body of work, which can be as few as 9, or as many as 18 paintings…the narrative tells me when its complete. That sounds so artsy-fartsy but it’s the truth. Its like a conversation, a dance. I have to be flexible to the paintings and their needs.
I chose people that speak to me somehow. We don’t know each other going in, but when we come out, we typically have a strange bond. I had to pursue Caz, my subject for “Afterlife” for a number of months. I think he thought I was crazy or something, but eventually I got him in, and now we have this strange bond. He’s a wonderful man, we’re connected. Its something operating on a deeper level because in all reality I prefer to paint people that I don’t know. I work from photo, and I tell the subjects to wear whatever they want and to be themselves…sometimes the surprises that they bring into the studio with them – an earring, a shirt, an attitude – ends up being the defining characteristic of the piece.
A lot of your paintings focus on male portraiture, what is it that interests you about the male physical form?
You know the saying paint what you know? Well I’m a young white dude, so I often end up painting young white dudes. Though my ‘type’ is changing drastically. I’m also gay, but I don’t paint the proverbial ‘object of my affection’. But another artist once said it really eloquently: that as an artist we have to assume the identity of our sitter, and its harder for me to assume the role of a female. I can connect to a man better.
What are you hoping to achieve long-term in your art career?