Charles Bukowski once wrote, “can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” Since time immemorial, society has been dictating its own rules and set up its very own definition of normativity, therefore creating a border between those who fit and those who don’t. The world has been giving birth to outcasts for centuries. And today is no exception; one is cast out based on their religion, their gender, their sexual orientation, their views on the world, or their lifestyle.
As a gay man, Canadian artist Andrew Salgado has always felt that rejection and even experienced it in the most brutal way possible, when he fell victim to a hate crime at a music festival in Canada in 2008. The young man was then left toothless and unconscious. “Something like that shapes you forever…” he says. “But it’s how you process and move on from it where you find the silver lining.” After the incident, Andrew found in art a way to exteriorize his painful experience. “In art school, we often spoke about how art was a weapon, but I never really realized what that meant until something happened to me”, he explains. “I became anchored. I had something to talk about. Oddly enough, it made my career. As people, we have a natural tendency towards catharsis and convalescence.” Indeed, the works that followed, such as Bloody Faggot, were mostly self-portraits showing him completely wrecked.
Today, he’s moved on from this past hurt and is sending all minorities and outcasts a powerful, hopeful, and healing message through his first solo show in two years, The Snake, opening at Beers London on November 11, 2016. “For me, the title came about as a reference to change. How I, as an artist and person, saw myself as shedding my former skin and moving into something new. So, I suppose that is re-birth”, Andrew explains.
But the artist also points out the multitude of meanings the title can take, including more metaphorical ones, such as those that would refer to the Garden of Eden or the Greek mythological sculpture, Laocoon. “I don’t view the snake as a symbol of optimism…then again neither do I view it as a negative thing, but I do think it’s dangerous, seductive, and perhaps somewhat representative of some unattainable ideal,” the artist adds.
Let’s Start A War
“You know, I think this idea of seduction, evil, the pariah, being cast out of the proverbial Garden of Eden… it’s all linked.” Salgado says. Among his 12 vibrant works, the painter exhibits many subjects, who all represent outsiders, each of them having experienced rejection in some way. “There are a lot of women in this show because I think women have carried a lot of the burden of being ‘othered’ for years. Then let’s talk about the blacks, the queers, and now this net is cast wider: the trans, the Muslims…we are so concerned with pushing people out of our realm of comfort that we begin to define ourselves not just by difference – that’s not inherently a bad thing (I mean, I’m Canadian, and we’re more often defining ourselves by how we are not American than by precisely what we actually are) but it becomes a bad thing when you pair difference with dislike.” Andrew explains.
One of the works constituting the show is a tribute to the victims of the recent Orlando massacre in Florida, where 49 people got killed. “I couldn’t talk about Orlando for a long time. I’d break into tears. I don’t believe on profiteering on the pain of others, but let’s face it, I’m an artist. I’m often inspired by tragedy,” Salgado explains. “Orlando was dark. That was a dark period in our history as people,” he says. “I kept thinking, ‘you know, we’re not as far ahead as we think we are…’”
He also mentions his first Muslim subject. “He is a beautiful young gay boy who was raised Muslim,” he states. “I was inspired to use him because suddenly we’re talking about very topical themes. We can’t escape who we are and the confines that society puts us in. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. The painting is the promo piece and titled Let’s Start a War,” he continues. “I got a hate-fuelled email from someone calling me a sicko for endorsing war and I sort of just thought, oh man can’t you see the irony here? The show is about raising questions,” he then adds.
“What we are doing now is kicking down these doors to open lines of dialogue. Maybe some child comes in with their parent and asks the pertinent question? Why is this painting called that? What does this mean?”
Heavily inspired by the horrors striking the world, Andrew Salgado expresses once again themes of violence, hatred, and re-birth through this immersive show having at its core the devastating effects of disrespect and inhumanity. “These are feelings that I’ve been working with while I paint, but I have had to find a way to translate that into something enjoyable,” he explains. “It’s not all doom and gloom”.
As well as some form of theatricality that sees the gallery turning into a garden, the paintings of this upcoming show are all very colourful, but they do feel like there’s something dark, messy, and bruised underneath them too. “They do feel bruised,” Andrew acknowledges. “They are very technically and heavily applied. The colour scheme is quite a cohesive story: dark greens, purples, and midnight blues,” he says. “The paintings are dark, but they’re rich. The show operates on hopefulness, change, and rebirth. They tell a story that I think is ultimately positive”.
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