Canadian artist Andrew Salgado and Beers gallery announces his most confident work to date, The Snake. Following ten sell-out solo shows which have taken place in major cities all over the world, Salgado explains that the title refers both to his own sense of re-birth as an artist as well as the allegorical nature the show.
Salgado will exhibit 12 vibrant works as a tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando massacre in Florida, which killed 49 people, making it the largest shooting by a single gunman in American history. As a gay man who subscribes to Francis Bacon’s dictum that it’s not the paintings that are violent, but the world itself, Salgado finds himself once again revisiting themes of brutality and masculinity. Recognisable for his somewhat aggressive, textured brushstrokes and the raw emotion that bleeds from his works, Salgado’s paintings often reference broad ideas around hatred, destruction and re-birth. Previous subjects have included serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, homosexual serial killler as well victims who have had experienced bloodshed and suffering, including Salgado himself. In 2008, at a music festival in Canada, he survived a ferocious attack which left him unconscious and toothless, which was carried out by a handful of men motivated by homophobia.
The demons which lurked around him following the incident have been fully exorcised through a number of cathartic exhibitions. Works such as ‘Bloody Faggot’ (First in 2008 and another version in 2011) were self portraits depicting him blood-encrusted and toothlessly grimacing, post-attack. Eight years later, Salgado has moved on and found peace, with no further need to reference his own sense of violation through his work. He claims though, that the beating has certainly injected a political bent and granted him an unique vantage point to comment on the dark and violent side of humanity. Propelled forwards from being a painter of ‘cute white boys’, and now via the chrysalis of his own catharsis, his paintings and experience have cemented him as an anxious commentator. One who draws allegorical correlations between the predominantly male body and the notions of good and evil.
For the show, Salgado and Beers gallery will create an installation and build a room within a room. The walls will be painted green and a carpet of grass will line the floor, representing the Garden of Eden, with some surprises in store for visitors on the opening night. Salgado claims that there’s a heart of darkness to the works, which isn’t immediately obvious. He says, “I want people to feel like they’re walking into a clandestine space. There’s something evil and seductive about the show as a whole. I feel that as a gay man, we’re pariahs who have been cast out of the Garden of Eden.”
The immersive show will present a paradox of the sacred and the profane, with man’s inhumanity to fellow mankind as the recurring vision. “Orlando was what spurred me on to looking at the ills around the world”, says Salgado. “We’re waking-up every morning to more race-related attacks and assaults based on sexual or religious preferences. We seem to have reached a new low and it just seems to keep going, like we’re trapped in some horrific echo chamber.” This became the title of one of the works. Echo chamber features a portrait of Sandro Kopp, artist and partner of Tilda Swinton. Yet although the subject matter is dark, the paintings themselves are seductively dizzying, their bold colour palette and brushstrokes reverberate, each painting resonating with its own murky depth.
Many of the subjects represent outsiders, each of them an alien or an outcast in some way. They are painted on canvasses which have been and stitched and hand died by the artist. One of the paintings entitled Let’s Start A War depicts Salgado’s first ever Muslim subject, which is embellished with icons and symbols. Female subjects figure will figure strongly in the show, with completed works to include Fiddle and Drum, (named after the Joni Mitchell anti-war song) and Swans, depicting an older woman with short white hair and extremely pale skin, to whom Salgado was drawn by her ethereal and ‘serpentine’ qualities. Additional female subjects confirmed as sitters include model Anna Cleveland and her supermodel mother, Pat Cleveland. The Festival in Hell takes is borrowed from a lyric in a Tori Amos song. The painting is a disturbing vision, a manifestation of the devil, sitting in possibly regretful contemplation of his own reign of destruction. He has given us the powers to ruin ourselves and humanity but even he is shocked at our brutal nihilism.
In many ways, the snake metaphor appealed to Salgado, less as Satanic symbol of chaos from the underworld and more as a symbol of re-birth and healing. The snake may be guilty of causing the transition to human pain, mortality and the expulsion from paradise. But as portrait of existence, our collective suffering is also balanced by the free will, knowledge and joy that comes as part of being human.