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Artist Andrew Salgado: ‘The Orlando massacre is the darkest moment in recent history’

PUBLISHED: 13:00 14 October 2016

Andrew Salgado, artist in his studio in London.   Picture: David Sandison

Andrew Salgado, artist in his studio in London. Picture: David Sandison

© photograph by David Sandison

Andrew Salgado talks to ZOE PASKETT about his upcoming exhibition, The Snake at the Beers Gallery, a tribute to the Orlando shooting victims

Echo Chamber, (2016), oil, oil pastel, and spraypaint with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x180cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths Echo Chamber, (2016), oil, oil pastel, and spraypaint with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x180cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths

“For me, Orlando is the darkest moment in our recent history,” says Andrew Salgado. “It’s the worst mass killing. It was a wake-up call to me and all the other LGBT people out there. We’re not as far ahead as we think we are. There are still hurdles to cross.”

Canadian artist Salgado has encountered his fair share of hurdles. In 2008, he was himself the victim of a brutal homophobic attack.

“My partner and I were jumped by eight guys in the middle of the day at a music festival in British Columbia. I lost my teeth. We were two persons. We did nothing. We were pacifists and we were arrested. No charges were pressed but they made no effort to detain or find the eight guys.”

In the years since the attack, Salgado has made a conscious effort not to “harp on about that”, forging an international reputation from his Hackney studio.

Egypt (The Fiddle and Drum), (2016), oil and oil pastel with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x150cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths Egypt (The Fiddle and Drum), (2016), oil and oil pastel with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x150cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths

But the events at Pulse nightclub in June struck a deep chord with him. It is for this reason that he has chosen to dedicate his upcoming show at the Beers Gallery, The Snake, to the victims of the Orlando massacre.

“The show is greatly a response to those pariahs in society. The show is inspired by the tragic world events that have been taking place recently.

“There’s a very special tribute to these victims that will occur during the opening on November 11 and we are making a substantial donation to Orlando Relief from funds raised on the evening.”

This space has been a home to Salgado’s work for a number of his exhibitions, as Kurt Beers and the Beers Gallery have represented him since he was a “kid with a dream”.

Andrew Salgado sits in front of Afterlife, (2016), oil, oil pastel, and spraypaint with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x190cm. Picture: Damian Griffiths Andrew Salgado sits in front of Afterlife, (2016), oil, oil pastel, and spraypaint with hand-dyed patchwork on canvas and linen, handpainted beech frame, 200x190cm. Picture: Damian Griffiths

“Without them I’d have no career,” he says. “It’s not easy, this art career. It’s not easy for anyone, and I’m super grateful to them for what they’ve afforded me: the platform to speak and run naked through the fields.”

Drawing on themes of brutality and masculinity, The Snake, is a far cry from his most recent exhibition which he describes as “a clown barfing up Skittles”. He acknowledges, however, that his work has always harboured dark undertones.

The paintings in this exhibition are vibrant. They’re colourful and expressive and the rawness of Salgado’s emotion is evident through the paint. But that darkness is plain throughout.

“As someone who made his career painting ‘cute white boys’, I’ve distanced myself from that. They’re scary works I think. They’re all dark and atmospheric and sexy. I love them. There is some stitching and patchwork. It’s a cohesive, tight, but ultimately strange and romantic collection.”

Let's Start a War, (2016), oil and oil pastel on canvas, handpainted beech frame, 200x180cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths Let's Start a War, (2016), oil and oil pastel on canvas, handpainted beech frame, 200x180cm by Andrew Salgado. Photo: Damian Griffiths

As for the exhibition title, “a lot of people think it’s a phallic reference. It’s not, but people will project what they want to see and that’s what I liked about the title. I saw it as shedding a skin, being reborn.

“It sounded unhinged, a little ‘off’, and the more I thought about the snake as a metaphor, all these tangential references started coming up: beginning with Original Sin, the Garden of Eden, and this metaphor of the snake comes up so much in historical literature and contemporary references.”

That Garden of Eden allusion will be extended into the exhibition layout, with the floor becoming a carpet of grass and the walls painted green. Salgado has become disenchanted with the traditional and minimalistic method of hanging an exhibition in a white room, calling it “half-baked.”

“It’s just not enough to hang a painting,” he says. “For the past two years, painting within the border of the canvas is somewhat unfulfilling.”

He has considered deeply the viewer’s experience of the exhibition from start to finish, aiming for a “total sensory overload”.

“I want people to leave feeling absolutely removed from reality. It should be a jarring, moving, emotional, but also fun experience.”

Salgado is emphatic that viewers should get the full impact of his work in an environment that suits their character, and images on the internet and in newspaper print can’t do justice to the effect that his creations have on the eye.

“The paintings are so wildly different in person than they are as reproduced on social media or the computer screen. That they transform themselves in person is greatly important to me.”

Andrew Salgado’s The Snake runs from November 12 to December 17 at the Beers Gallery, EC1V 9NU. Beerslondon.com

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