Twenty-five years ago, at the age of 10, Andrew Salgado was just another kid who’d decided to take art classes at Regina’s Neil Balkwill Centre. Today he’s a celebrated and critically acclaimed artist whose last 11 solo exhibitions (in cities as diverse as London, New York, Miami and Cape Town) have sold out, and who has been interviewed by major magazines and newspapers around the world.
In January and February, Salgado’s paintings were featured in a survey exhibition entitled TEN at The Canadian High Commission in Trafalgar Square, London, which coincided with the release of the first artist monograph (work published in book form) featuring his paintings. He’s even been the subject of a film documentary, Storytelling (www.storytelling.com).
I interviewed Salgado by email last month for an upcoming article in Refined Lifestyles Regina magazine. Be sure to check it out when it’s published, but there was a lot of information I couldn’t fit into its few hundred words, so I wanted to post the full interview here.
You were born and raised in Regina, and your parents still live here. You began taking art classes at age nine at the Neil Balkwill Centre with Ward Schell. Clearly you already had an interest in art. How did that manifest as a small boy?
I lived across the street from Beth Gaffney, the celebrated watercolorist. I learned the basics from her, which is kind of ironic since watercolor is such an illogical process of painting, you paint light to dark, which is pretty much the opposite way I paint now, with oils. Anyway, after that I learned from Ward throughout my childhood years, and then in high school at Leboldus I had an amazing teacher, Donna Columpsi. I started at UofR and had wonderful tutelage there, such as John Noestheden. I was lucky, I guess.
Why did you (or your parents) decide you should take those lessons?
Oh, I wanted to take the courses at Neil Balkwill. I hated sports. All the other kids were playing hockey and soccer and I just wanted to take stained glass and pottery classes. I was a weird kid. But I made it work for me. ha.
What impact did those lessons have on you?
Well, I learned at a very young age how to handle a lot of technical processes. I went into high school and university with a pretty wide arsenal of artistic skills.
When did you decide you wanted to make art your career?
I think this had largely to do with Donna Columpsi at Leboldus. I arranged my spare classes in high school so that my final year I was able to have a full afternoon off, and I would go from 12 to 5pm and work in the art-room under Donna. I think she saw that and was like, “this kid has got to pursue this.” I originally thought I wanted to be an architect, but in retrospect, that has too much restriction. I’m quite a free-thinker; I’m very stubborn; very driven…these are all good qualities to have in the art world, which is vicious and cutthroat.
What, if anything, do you think your Regina/Saskatchewan upbringing has brought to your career as an artist?
I’m not an asshole, like so many others are in this industry. Haha. I stay grounded and gracious and kind. Small town mentality.
What drew you to drawing the human face (see, I avoided the term “portrait artist”)?
If we are gonna be really finicky, I prefer “figurative artist,” haha. But no, I don’t like portrait artist. That refers to something entirely different from what I’m painting. I am not sure if its my forte or my crutch, that this face has to be there…? Its like a landing strip from where I can take off of…the most recent work has the face almost falling into obscurity. The newest pieces treat it almost secondary. Its like a roadmap that I’m tracing all my journeys on.
You took two years at the University of Regina, then moved to Vancouver to continue your degree. Why Vancouver? And after that, why Chelsea?
I just had this desire for change. Wanderlust. A desire to consume and experience. I think London has really provided that for me…I’ve been able to digest and learn about so much art, then, now, constantly.
You live in London, you’ve lived in Berlin, you’ve traveled all over the world. How has all of that influenced your art?
I mean, clearly my art is completely different than it would be had I remained in Regina. It’s something that defies classification, I think. Recently, my friend and gallerist Kurt Beers of Beers London (www.beerslondon.com), who have represented me for over seven years, said, at one of the art fairs we travel to internationally, that no one is really doing what I’m doing in figurative painting. I mean, I guess on one hand I agree with him, because I’m constantly pushing myself to learn and achieve more. I am never satisfied with my output, so I’m always pushing myself to evolve and do and say more with my art. For my last show, I painted the entire gallery green (floors, walls, ceiling). The forthcoming exhibition, A Room With A View of the Ocean in Zagreb, Croatia, I’m installing three separate rooms; there’s furniture, video, sculpture, installation, all for the purpose of exhibiting these paintings. So…the work is about so much more than just painting a face. You ask me why I avoid the term portrait artist… That’s why. No, I won’t paint your kids. I guess that sounds arrogant but I’ve worked tirelessly for, what, 15, naerly 20 years to get to the point where – if I can think it – we can execute it. Its a great feeling. But the artworld is so cutthroat that I always, I mean always, have to deliver my A-Game. I see the trends happening internationally, and I’m constantly visually digesting and learning…the flames are licking at my heels. So I run, full speed.
Tell me about TEN, the exhibit, and the book. How did they come about, and how did you select the pieces featured?
TEN is the first monograph (or art book) of my work. It was something we had been planning for over a year, but I wanted to include the pieces from my last show in there. Something felt full circle about that. It was a hugely ambitious project, over 280 pages with multiple texts and over 100 full-colour plates. Thank God the staff at Beers London worked alongside the designers (London’s Modern Activity
) to handle it all while I finished working on a body of work. Its just such a massive undertaking. Then we were quite fortunate that we were able to time a 10-year survey exhibition at the Canadian High Commission in London at the same time. That show (January 11 – February 28) was curated by David Liss of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto. Basically, I went to him with 35 works that I felt would be appropriate for inclusion, and he selected the final 12. The conclusion of 2016 was a hugely ambitious period of time. We sort of…strolled into 2017 with all this stuff ready to go and I thought, “Wow, what an honour.” It really raises the bar for me, its a huge honour.
How did you feel about being featured in such a high-profile fashion as a prime example of Canadian art?
Realistically, there are so many artists more established and more deserving than me. But it’s a massive recognition. As David said, “you’re going to have a big career.” Now I just want to make sure that I fulfil such a tall order.
You’ve talked about disliking the term “activist,” but you also feel that it’s important to engage with issues you are passionate about with your art. What issues influence your painting?
Well, I’m very vocal about LGBT and human rights. I’m very vocally anti-Trump. There are big political messages in my art and I don’t believe you can be partway. I always say, you’re either with us, or you’re against us. That might sound quite harsh, but let’s face it, if you love my work, and are anti-LGBT, then you’ve not been paying attention. All the best art historically has been political, and I don’t see why today’s artists should be any different. My last show, The Snake, featured my first transgender subject, my first Muslim subject, and also a featured a tribute to the 49 persons who were murdered in Orlando. Like I said, I’m not interested in painting a portrait of your spouse…I’m interested in having your child question “WHY.”
What impact do you think art—and your art in particular—can have on society? What impact would you like it to have?
I’ve seen changes. I’ve seen people begin discussions. Art has a social responsibility. Make your art political or don’t make it at all. Full stop.
As a novelist, I think in terms of story, and what strikes me about your paintings is that they tell stories—a different story for each viewer, no doubt, but there’s more going on there than just the surface image. Do you think in terms of telling stories with your paintings? What kind of stories do they tell?
Absolutely. Each painting has a narrative, but also, each body of work has a narrative. They often focus on convalescence. Stories that operate dramatically and fictitiously, but also that operate on a real world level. I’m not here to tell people what to think or feel about each piece…I stopped doing that a while back. But people come and they will take what they want to take. The information is there, if they’re interested in finding it, but I think my political and my narrative stance is quite clear. However, my forthcoming show has lightened the reigns a bit…I had some experiences at the conclusion of 2016 that just made me want to focus on lightness, freedom, the idea of possibility. The world is so ugly, and focusing on that too much as I did for the previous show became quite dark.
Artists evolve or they stagnate. You’re clearly not stagnating. How have you seen your art change over the years? How is it changing right now?
Yeah, its funny…I think the TEN book is a real testament to that change. Right now its becoming more conceptual. The forthcoming show has me doing things I’ve never done, but perhaps not had the nerve to execute before. We’re toying with sound, stitching, collage, salon-hangs…I mean, you name it. Its a process of having to edit ideas down to a cohesive statement. Given enough time and an ample budget, I mean…anything is possible.
Tell me about any upcoming exhibitions of note.
A Room with A View of the Ocean opens June 24 at Lauba Institute of Art in Zagreb Croatia. The other stuff I’m not allowed to say yet.
You’ve had one show in Regina, at the Art Gallery of Regina. Any hope of seeing another show in Saskatchewan sometime soon?
I’ll come back to Regina when the MacKenzie offers me a solo. haha. But really.
Any advice for young artists?
Well, I won’t say follow your dreams without cognisance. Because I have to be realistic. I think it’s important that young people are knowledgeable about the difficulties in pursuing an art career. Do your research. Learn as much as you can. Its an ugly world, but I’ve always said if you have enough conviction or stupidity you’ll make it work. I think I have both. haha.
And, finally, anything else you’ve always wanted to say in an interview but have never had the opportunity to do so?
Yeah, I’ve always wanted to call a show Contemporary Pleasure Island Time Wasters.
Thanks for your time!