“Rainbow drops – suck them and you can spit in six different colours.”
― Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
DIRTY LINEN / THE NIHILIST’s ALPHABET
Andrew Salgado has had 12 consecutive, sold-out international exhibitions, including London, New York, Miami, and most recently – a tour-de-force 2017 exhibition featuring video, furniture, and sculpture in a transformed 13,000ft former military base turned art gallery in Zagreb, Croatia1. Earlier in 2017 he was the youngest artist ever to receive the honour of a survey exhibition at The Gallery of the Canadian High Commission in the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square2. Now, the London-based Andrew Salgado’s returns to Cape Town with a show to debut at The Cape Town Art Fair and thereafter relocate to Christopher Moller Gallery.
Salgado’s newest output, entitled Dirty Linen / The Nihilist’s Alphabet, presents two different but interrelated bodies of work: Dirty Linen consists of 10 paintings that are – for the first time in his burgeoning career – all executed on linen support. But the title also suggest, rather wryly, the act of ‘airing one’s dirty laundry’ – a colloquialism for an over-sharing of secrets, but as Salgado assures us, with his maturation as a man and an artist, he is becoming less of an autobiographer, keen to remove his own intention from the work; a way for Salgado to ‘share less’, in order to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions. Despite their sugary, saccharine veneer, the work seems to keep viewers at a distance, simultaneously inviting but also deflecting the viewer. Always one to play emotive tricks, Salgado seems more self-aware of his ability to play with the viewer’s emotions. In Talisman, the lead image from the exhibition, Salgado has found a sort-of visual metonym for his practice as a whole. He states:
There is an ideology that to ‘go forward’, one must go back. I first painted Sandro like this in early 2016, with the plastic dollar store rose, and I love the image because it invites while it refuses: simultaneously wholly Romantic but absolutely ironic – and I view my whole practice like that. For Dirty Linen, he is Grand Marshall, leading this motley pageant – and he provided that proverbial ‘lightbulb’ moment, dictating the ambience and feel for the whole body of work: I went to the moodboard with words like chocolate, dirt, Willy Wonka, and technicolor. We see an immediate polarisation – a linkage of opposites: what appears so glaringly gleeful is actually rather menacing – with those perennially arched Luciferian eyebrows, he appears like a fever dream, the tragically charismatic villain: like the Chesire Cat, whose sharpened grin glints like diamonds.
The adjacent Nihilist’s Alphabet further compounds these ideals, consists of 20 works on paper that seem to weave, wander, and interlace many of the concepts seen in the paintings with a cruder, more immediate approach, and certainly the viewer is compelled to find such connections as though drawing circles on a word-map. One sees how the subject in the two drawings, Castle and Young Price, recurs as the culminating painting in the beastly and triumphant Take This Pleasure, a piece that Salgado refers to as inhabiting an “overtly, self-conscious gleefulness… a beastliness.” Again, there appears to be a paradox between the utopian or hallucinatory, versus the nihilistic conceptualism or almost serpentine darkness that imbues the works. This is an artist who based his 2016 exhibition on the death of 55 persons at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando earlier that year, also discussing darker aspects of humanity, including Xenophobia and racial inequality.
Conceptually, if the works do not stray too far from the themes he has become known for, harkening back to ideas Salgado explored previously in shows like The Misanthrope3 or This is Not the Way to Disneyland4, they operate more covertly. The intentions are less obvious. And Salgado is less-inclined to discuss them: shying from his previous penchant for autobiographical, highly personalized work, Salgado seems (at least ostensibly) to turn his sights outward here, looking to external and formal elements for inspiration or guidance. “The title explicitly references the materiality. For now, that was enough…” He states. “This desire to grow up, and out, of my own solipsistic realm has been nagging at me for some time. I wanted these to be more about my base materials, and specifically how my marks felt on the surface, and how they were presented in an environment. I didn’t want this work to be about me.”
If prioritizing the technique and format is his preference, he has occupied that role with zeal: Salgado continuously pushes the technical dimensions of his work, utilizing a broad array of techniques, approaches, and styles that not only keep each work fresh and unexpected, but that are also uncommon in figurative painting. Yet, Salgado insists the works are ‘boiled down’, focusing on a simplicity of media after a show last year saw the artist hand-stitching 2.5m paintings, making a sofa, and installing an artificial beach with an 8m projection of the ocean. For Dirty Linen, the artist exhibits a desire to retreat, pull back, whittle things down, and focus on presentation. Despite the apparent chaos on display, there is restraint, there exists an order – one might even say a ‘method to the madness’.
Viewed together, both bodies of work function beautifully as one grandiose statement: the color, the mark-making, the ideologies presented between both bodies of work house wonderful connections for the viewer to elaborate upon – and while the drawings find their organization in a large grid, and suggest a desire for formalism and order that leads to the paintings, wherein one painting connects – figuratively but also very literally – to its neighbour. This structure is also reiterated in the shaped canvases: Accidental Sainthood’s clever trickery is at once optical, lyrical, and architectural. “The show is like a big convoluted play that unfolds in acts.” Salgado states: “too many characters; too many connections. It’s all a bit Tarantino… but intention and execution are one and the same. They unfold naturally and causally in the same way they unfold in the studio, but I leap back and forth in time, sort of like Vonnegut in Slaughterhouse V. So these polka dots might find their way back to an earlier chapter. If a painting is extracted from the procession, the entire presentation becomes unstable; the story falls apart.” These finite linkages result in a system of codes and (what he calls) hieroglyphs that tie one painting to the next, allowing one story to flow onto its successor, and the entire system of codes, motifs, colours, and techniques play out across the paintings like a foreign language to be deciphered.
“Yes you can read deeper into the work, and certainly these meanings are there under the surface, but I no longer have the desire to pander to these explanations. A, B, C, D, E, F, G… blah blah blah. I like the idea that your input is probably more exciting than my own. Listening to me talk becomes so tedious. I feel more like, here’s a torch, there’s the cave, go explore.”
- Kurt Beers,
Director, Beers London Gallery
Dirty Linen / The Nihilist’s Alphabet runs at Christopher Moller Gallery, Cape Town, until March 24, 2018.
Andrew Salgado (b. 1982, Canada) has had 12 consecutive sold-out international exhibitions, including London, New York, Zagreb, Miami, Cape Town, and Basel, and his status as a leading figurative painter is reflected by a growing international collector-base. In 2017, Salgado was the youngest artist to ever receive a survey-exhibition at The Canadian High Commission in London, accompanied by a 300-page monograph, both entitled TEN.
He is the subject of a 2015 documentary, Storytelling, and was featured in 100 Painters of Tomorrow (Thames & Hudson, 2014). He frequently donates to various international charities including Terrence Higgins Trust, Pride London, Stonewall, and Diversity Role Models, for which he is a patron. He has received extensive press both online and in print, including GQ, The Evening Standard, The Independent, Artsy, and METRO, as well as Canada’s top two leading news-resources: The Globe and Mail and Macleans.
In 2015, Salgado curated The Fantasy of Representation at Beers London, including work by Francis Bacon, Gary Hume, and Hurvin Anderson, along with an impassioned manifesto for representational painting.
Forthcoming solo exhibitons include Dirty Linen (& The Nihilist’s Alphabet), Christopher Moller Cape Town, (Feb-Mar 2018); and How to Build a Boat, Angell Gallery, Toronto (Oct-Nov 2018); and a fourth solo at Beers London (autumn 2019).