ANDREW SALGADO (b.1982, Canada) is one of the most promising young figurative painters working today. His forthcoming solo exhibition TEN is a survey of his work at The Canadian High Commission, Trafalgar Square, London. The show opens this week (13 Jan- 28 Feb 2017) an artist monograph of the same name accompanies the show. – Artlyst Exclusive Interview by Paul Carter Robinson
AL How would you describe your practice?
AS I feel like my practice – well, any artist’s practice, really – should be an amorphous entity. It is constantly evolving. It’s really strange because my first monograph is being released this month (Jan 2017) and it details the past 10 years of my practice along with a survey exhibition of my work. For me to see these works come back, together, (the earliest from 2006), is a really surreal feeling. I see the changes. I see the constants. I learn from what I’ve done and where I can grow and improve.
But to answer your question in a more straightforward manner, my work is predominantly oil on canvas, however recently there has been a strong introduction of oil pastel, mixed-media, and even collage. For my previous show, The Snake, (Beers London 2016) I hand-dyed and hand-stitched linen and canvas together. I think this can be taken further. As I said, my entire practice is a porous beast. My technique and application changes; I explore a lot…I experiment. Sometimes things work, and sometimes they don’t. I have a lot of detritus but this eventually evolves into a finished work, doesn’t it? My concepts are broad. I was a victim of hate-crime in 2008 for being gay, but that’s not what I’m concerned with anymore…it’s more about broader ideas of misanthropy. For my forthcoming show, I’ve asked Australian artist Rhys Lee to join me. It’s called A Room With a View of the Ocean and I think the entire outlook is lighter, brighter, fresher. I want the works to be a little more irreverent…The Snake was about transphobia, Islamophobia, homophobia…that got pretty dark, fast. I was shackled. This time, I want to stay abreast of things…I want to keep my head above the proverbial water. I might be in the Ocean but at least I’m treading. Rhys will challenge me to push my boundaries, and hopefully, I’ll do the same for him.
AL How important is your Canadian identity to your painting?
AS I mean, I think this is a trick question. Because given the survey show at the Canadian High Commission the politically correct response would be to say ‘very’. But in reality, it’s not. I mean, I’m a proud Canadian citizen, I love Canada. But I’ve also lived in London for 10 years. I’m 34 – that’s nearly a third of my life, and certainly the majority of my adult life. So the UK has had an irrevocable effect on who I am as a human. my art. My identity. But we are all products of our environments. I spoke with Tony Godfrey once about this and I said that perhaps growing up in the Canadian prairies – as I did in Saskatchewan – allowed my imagination to run. We had big open skies. Candy-coloured pink sunsets. Canola fields so yellow they’d blind your eyes as you drove past. I played a lot by myself, in my creative space. I was free to do so. So maybe my work is resolutely Canadian. Who knows. I’m proud of where I came from.
AL Now that you live and work primarily in the UK has this had an influence on the direction your work has taken in terms of its evolution?
AS My move to the UK was pretty rattling. I wasn’t seen as ‘cool’ in 2008, at Chelsea, doing a Masters, wanting to make figurative paintings. People laughed at me. I didn’t have a context or confidence. In fact, I nearly quit three months in…I was quite serious about leaving the UK. But I’m a Capricorn; I’m stubborn as hell, and it gave me resolve. The story I often tell is how bewildered I was by (what I called then) the ‘London Aesthetic’…Phoebe Unwin was spearheading this look and style that I had never seen and it perplexed and angered me. In Canada – things were more straightforward…or maybe I just thought that they were. Anyway, I eventually found a studio and Phoebe was my next door neighbor – so instead of begrudging what I didn’t understand I began to glean. Picasso said ‘good artist’s borrow but great artist’s steal’, so I began visually digesting everything I could. What is it now, 8 years later, and its made me a stronger artist. I’m always looking, imbibing, translating, learning…London has made me a better painter. It challenges me and my expectations and appreciations each and every day.
“We have some ugly days in front of us – Brexit, Trump, ISIS, transphobia, homophobia, racism. Art can transcend that, and unify us”
AL How would you rate your Canadian education compared to your MA studies at Chelsea and would you recommend Chelsea to others who take painting seriously as a medium?
AS My tutelage in Canada was exceptional. I grew up across from a celebrated watercolorist who taught me fundamentals. I grew up as a kid with an extra-curricular program from an artist who became a mentor. My high-school teacher was extraordinary. I had good teachers throughout university.
London…not to speak out of term, was a bit of a mess. Chelsea offered me very little if I’m honest. I think it’s changed, but when I was there everyone was like ‘fuck your paintings, crack an egg on your head and call it performance art’. It was very difficult for me. I wouldn’t go back to Chelsea…but I made it work for me. I think the tides have turned a bit…I think painting is cool again. Who knows. I’d love to go back and tutor and support students in a way I was never supported. Polly Staple, director of Chisenhale gallery, understood me. She was lovely.
AL The first monograph of your work has just been published and with several high profile shows including a survey show at the Canadian High Commission in London opening this week, how will you continue this momentum and still have time to paint and grow. In other words, what do you foresee in the future?
AS I think unlike certain art forms – say photographers or more conceptual, cerebral artists, painters need to paint. I can only grow through practice. I always tell artists: paint more, think less. I think the figure will continue to recede into the background. I think the abstraction will grow. But who knows. Rhys and I have some very grand ideas for the Croatia show and my practice continues to become more about installation as well as the two-dimensional painted object. I have a packed schedule through to 2019, so that’s very exciting. I can’t give away all my secrets…things develop through practice. Right now, my assistant is in charge of looking for a blindingly lemon yellow couch, if that tells you anything.
AL Is your LGBT identity an important part of your work? And how does this manifest itself in your subject matter?
AS Yes. I don’t like the word advocate, but I am extremely vocal about the prevalence of LGBT issues in my art. But it’s not just about ‘gay issues’…it’s about equality. I use my art to speak out. Art is a tool and I intend to continue to wield it as we go ahead. We have some ugly days in front of us – Brexit, Trump, ISIS, transphobia, homophobia, racism. Art can transcend that, and unify us. These are big words but art is a powerful weapon.
Main Photo: P C Robinson © artlyst 2017