A Quiet Man
PULSE Miami, Miami Florida
3-8 December 2015
The title loosely refers to a series visual archetypes that the artist references throughout the 14 paintings, beginning with a subject who became a type of stand-in or muse for Salgado, who inadvertently rerouted the trajectory of the show; it also refers, rather ironically, to the uncharacteristic surrounding ‘noise’ within each of the works; and lastly, it references a variety of late artists who Salgado found to be sources of inspiration, including Bacon, Gauguin, Manet, Diebenkorn, and Uglow. However, despite openly and brazenly wearing his inspirations so proudly on his sleeve, the works somehow manage to feel so unforgivingly Salgado’s own: springing forward from what has become his trademark style and forging forward with something that manages to feel uncompromising, exciting, and unexpected.
In the 8 years that Beers London has represented Salgado, he never fails to amaze me with his eagerness to welcome a challenge. It is as though Salgado’s practice and each successive body of work takes him on a journey of discovery both in and out of the confines of his studio. With this particular series, Salgado seems to confidently – finally! defiantly! and truly – divorce himself from (what he sees as the pejorative) label of ‘portrait’ artist. In only a few short years, Salgado has in fact redefined his entire practice to completely refute any comfortable classification of his work as ‘portrait art’.
In one of the first paintings for the series, we see a painting of supermodel Stella Tennant, who the artist befriended and painted for this series. The artist struggled with his initial ‘crop’ of the subject because it felt too straightforward. His resolution was to entirely restart the painting and situate the ‘portrait’ of Tennant within another painting – situated within a larger ‘still-life’ in which the poised figure is framed, like a painting, surrounded by a highly-stylized depiction of flowers. The French call it ‘mise-en-abyme’ – a picture within a picture – where reality paraphrases itself within another reality, a compositional trick favoured by Bacon that blocks areas of the picture plane and redirects the eye. But what Salgado seems keen to remind us is that what we see before us is not a figurative painting, but rather a painting of a figurative painting – always once removed. And this branches to the rest of the work in the series, where nothing aims for accurate representation, but rather desires to dislocate itself from any sort of reality.
The new works forge ahead with abstract gusto: bolder, brasher, cruder, both more colourful and more confident than ever before, each housing a visual noise that has risen to such levels as to relegate the figurative component secondary, if not altogether incoherent. In the three-metre Xmas with Gauguin, a painting after Gauguin’s 1897 painting, Nevermore, Salgado creates a barrier of multi-coloured painted streamers, not totally dissimilar to the grille paintings by Hurvin Anderson, that prevent the viewer from gaining access into the work. It seems that at every chance, Salgado wants to push us away from the sutures of the painted surface, reminding us of their artifice and construction. In Luncheon on the Grass, its title clearly lifted from the painting of the same name by Manet, the artist creates what he refers to as a ‘gazebo’, compositional lines lifted from Diebenkorn’s seminal Ocean Park series. The second painting of Tennant takes both its colour-scheme and its name from a work by celebrated British figurative painter Euan Uglow, who passed in 2000, but whose work Salgado feels is increasingly relevant today as the painting world appears to take a reinvigorated look toward figurative painting.
However, it is not just the Modernists that Salgado references. While the entire show benefits from the crude stylings of Tal R, Origins of Man borrows from Tal R; Peter’s dually references both Peter Doig and the paintings of the same name by Hurvin Anderson. The bold graphic quality in W is a nod to Laura Owens, and the silly smiley faces in Peace Signs and throughout the show seem to aspire toward a silliness about the entire production.
In fact, the entire body of work seems to cast the net into the world of contemporary abstraction to see what it can return. Before every figure, we encounter a barrier – an obstacle or a visible screen of white noise. We see the artist move from frames within frames like those in Hotel or Caribbean, to incorporate symbolism, floral motifs, and elements so overwhelmingly obstructive that they house a constellation of racket and commotion. The eponymous A Quiet Man bursts with restrained energy, and media that include spray, pastel, collage, even footprints, and dried paint ‘scabs’ affixed to the work. Salgado’s mantra of late: ‘more is more is more’. And he himself is the first to refer to the paintings as both ‘ugly’ and ‘tropical’. In conversation, he said he wanted palm trees and pink flamingos (it is to debut in Miami, after all). I see palm trees, but no flamingos…at least not yet.
To mirror this, Salgado plays with form: where some pieces have been hung from shoelaces, Luncheon on the Grass sits on aluminium canisters and Stella As Still Life (at least at the time this went to print) is supposed to perch atop vintage Scheurich vases. Nearly every frame has been detailed in any multitude of colours, housing works that confidently push themselves beyond what Salgado refers to as ‘the confines and conventions of figurative painting’. Here, freed from his shackles, I see the artist at his most playful: being referential, aloof, arbitrary, but always critical, with razor-sharp execution, and a most obsessive attention to detail.
Earlier in 2015, Salgado curated an exhibition of abstract representational painting at BEERS London with a strongly worded manifesto defending the merits of abstracted representational painting. Among the included artists were Francis Bacon, Hurvin Anderson, Gary Hume, and numerous others. Above all, the show where Salgado acted as curator seemed to celebrate the deconstruction of barriers that were once so firmly rooted between abstraction and representation. Just like A Quiet Man, Salgado appears to redefine through refutation of any single classification, whereas an artist he is working, destructing, and exploring the seemingly endless possibilities of paint.
Salgado told me very recently that he was struggling with how to accurately speak about the body of work. It was a weirdly appropriate conversation, given the show’s title. I told him that there was really no need to speak and that he has already said everything that he needs to say here in paint.