TheReview: Power of Paint – The Brilliance of Andrew Salgado

| February 3, 2014 | 1 Comment

Andrew SalgadoJust 12 canvases hang in the Christopher Moller gallery. Large, impelling portraits throbbing with colour and life.  In keeping with the international shows by the same artist, this one also sold out. On opening night. In thirty minutes.

Andrew Salgado, the Canadian born, London-based artist is riding high on the crest of the art wave.  He has been compared to Lucian Freud, has hung in London’s Courtauld Institute of the Arts, and has been lauded by Charles Saatchi as “one to watch”.

Christopher Moller has once again recognised a great talent, and luckily for us, persuaded this young artist to exhibit in Cape Town.  Moller spotted Salgado’s work at the London Art Fair and resolved to tempt him to Cape Town. It took him nearly a year.

Online and in print, Salgado’s work shows its brilliance.  But to see it ‘in the flesh’ is to recognise that his work is truly sublime.  Working in oils (and occasionally using spray paint on top) Salgado builds up the canvas in layers of richly textured, thickly applied paint. Visually, the paintings are luminous and animated – exuding energy and movement. Nothing is static or staid. Salgado’s technique employs dramatic, choppy brushstrokes and wild slashes, streaks, swirls, drips and daubs of brilliant, vivid colour. A cheek is a collage of turquoise, purples, pinks, peach and orange with flashes of yellow, lavender and burgundy.

Salgado refers to himself an abstract painter. Without abstraction, he explains, the paintings are portraiture, which he dismisses as uni-dimensional. For him accuracy is far less important than the concept behind identity and even the chance to explore the purely abstract properties of paint. “I’ve always felt it too superficial to simply aim for likeness in representation,” he explains. “In this regard, it’s important for me to question the nature of the painted image, the figure, and also those concepts not-so-visibly evidenced such as identity, masculinity and sexuality. I suppose that the way I go about drawing attention to this is by loosening the grip on accuracy of representation.”

His work is figurative and abstract, painterly and metaphorical. He wants us to engage with the visible and the tangible, as well as the suggested and the allegorical. His deep curiosity has driven him to explore even his own worst experiences.  In 2008 he and his partner were viciously beaten in a homophobic hate crime, an event which left him physically scarred and emotionally raging.  But by exploring his emotions through his painting, Salgado has emerged stronger and more focussed than ever.

Until recently his portraits were politically driven visions of bold, tortured beauty.  As his practice has evolved however, he has moved away from this, and shifted the focus from himself onto his subjects.   As he eloquently puts it, “It’s allowed me to go into the studio with a renewed confidence… I don’t have to be so anchored by a political concept. Maybe I can just go in and let the paint sing.”

And sing they do. ‘Schevevingen Dark’ is infused with a tenderness and vulnerability suggested by the slight downward tilt of the chin, the sloping eyes and delicate mouth. Stenciled fragments of a number in the top right hand side prompt the viewer to wonder what they refer to.  A telephone number? An identity number? A case number?

A particular striking piece is ‘Ultramarine’. Against a background of inky blue, hair, moustache, beard, eyebrows and shirt in midnight tones of prussion and cobalt, a face of pale, light-infused tints glows. A sharp, contrasting outline in bright turquoise lends the portrait an animated, graphic novel feel. Monumental and strong – the subject’s gaze is soft as he looks into the distance, a stunning image of contrasts.

Equally captivating is ‘Scheveningen Light’. Reminiscent of a Caravaggio portrait, the backward glance over a naked shoulder, flesh tones, cherubic curls and full lips feel like a classical study, yet the wild mélange of brushstrokes, trickles of paint, clashing colours and spray paint are the bold marks of an innovative contemporary artist.

Upstairs hangs a smaller self-portrait and one of only two where the subject meets our gaze. Equally as handsome as his subjects, there is hesitancy, an insecurity and hint of sadness in his eyes. A blue polo neck obscures his chin and part of his mouth, as if he is deliberately hiding. Salgado says that he has grown and healed from the violent incident of almost six years ago, yet confesses that it still informs much of his work. One can sense this lingering in his gaze.

‘Enjoy the Silence’ is deeply inspiring. It infuses one with the desire to buy a canvas and fill it with similar wild abandon. As the esteemed art critic Edward Lucie Smith said in reference to Salgado’s work, “The power lies in the power of the paint itself to convey intertwined thought and emotion.” Nowhere is this more evident than standing in silence, surrounded by these twelve canvases.

Samantha Reynolds

Andrew Salgado’s Enjoy the Silence runs at Christopher Moller Art, 7 Kloof Nek Corner, Cape Town 30 January to 14 March 2014.

 Samantha Reynolds is a freelance writer and photographer focusing on art and travel. More of her work can be found at

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Category: Archived Reviews

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  1. Daisy says:

    Some small changes have been made to the above article within a few hours of its first publication, in light of an unintentional similarity to an article published last year in Canadian magazine, Maclean’s. [Editor]

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