RAFAEL FRANCISCO SALAS
An on-line drawing exhibition
April through June
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Portrait Society Gallery is pleased to present PSG on PAPER, an exhibition about drawing. Each week, the gallery presents the work of one artist.
All of the work can be purchased on the website's Store (above in menu). We will porch deliver anywhere in the MIlwaukee area free of charge.
Artists include: Emily Belknap, Melissa Cooke, Steve Burnham, Skully Gustafson (Week One), Pat Hidson (Week Three), Nykoli Koslow (Week Two), Ashley Lusietto (Week Five), David Niec, Rosemary Ollison, Amy O'Neill, Mark Ottens, Nirmal Raja, Rafael Francisco Salas, Della Wells, M Winston (Week Four), Christopher T. Wood.
Rafael Francisco Salas, Untitled (Figure with Calf), 2020.
Acrylic and ink on paper, 12 x 9 inches, unframed. (sold)
This week's PSG on PAPER artist is Rafael Francisco Salas. No other artist creates an atmosphere of contemplation as well as Salas. His drawings and paintings embrace deep histories while staying rooted in a specific present, both conceptually and physically. This new body of corona-era drawings even more lavishly refers to Daumier, Dürer, Goya, and German photographer August Sander. Salas applies the underpinnings of classical art -- its formal finesse, drama, emotion -- as an overlay to the severely underrepresented monumentality of rural Wisconsin.
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Rafael Francisco Salas (photo by Frank Juarez)
"My artwork reflects on American tradition and identity. It speaks to an indignant desire for a dream continually just beyond reach. It is a strange, rural poetry of aspiration and poignant reality, a striver’s endeavor of high and low culture, situated between the elevated and the abject."
Rafael Francisco Salas earned his MFA from the New York Academy of Art in 2003 and his BA from Macalester College, St. Paul, MN in 1995. He is an associate professor of art at Ripon College, Ripon, WI.
Salas grew up in rural Wisconsin, the son of a Mexican-American migrant farming family. While he was considered Mexican, he did not speak Spanish, and, like many bi-racial individuals, experienced a kind of displacement. Portrait Society Gallery's second solo exhibition of Salas' work, "For God and Country," was in 2019. The Museum of Wisconsin Art will present a solo exhibition of Salas' work at its Downtown MOWA location at the St. Kate art hotel in January 2021.
Structure, 2020. Acrylic and ink on paper, 16 x 20 inches (sold)
ARTISTS RESPOND TO RAFAEL FRANCISCO SALAS' WORK
Each week we ask other artists in the show to comment about the featured artist's work.
When John Prine died of Covid 19, I listened to an All Songs Considered tribute and nearly lost it along with the hosts listening to Sam Stone..."Jesus Christ died for nothing, I suppose." I was in high school, living in a small farm town, when the Iraq War was just beginning. My dad was the pastor of the church down the street and my mom was a university professor. I am pretty sure we were the only family in town listening to But Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore. I know I was the only kid who remained seated during the Pledge of Allegiance.
With this upbringing, and with hearing about John Prine's life on the radio this past month, I understand country life in the United States to be a very complicated thing, and sometimes it doesn't even take place in the country. (Prine grew up outside of Chicago.) Rural America is full of contradictions- pride of place combined with disregard for the natural world, habitat, animals and topsoil; open sociability and care for the community combined with suspicion of strangers; value in hard work combined with all sorts of emotions towards migrant workers ranging from hostility to resolute unawareness.
I see all these contradictions in Rafael Francisco Salas' work. It combines criticism with care, evoking lived experience by the artist. The landscapes are stark, chilling and uninviting, and I am reminded of how long winter is here and how unwelcome I have felt as a new person in a small town. While at the same time, the quality of the mark making is like that of Rembrandt's sketches of his sleeping wife. It shows a tenderness that underpins the criticism, deepening its effect with contradiction.
When I look at these drawings, I feel emotions of longing and the artist’s search for the sublime in a rural landscape. As someone who is not familiar with rural life, Rafael's work opens a window for me - not into the mundane everyday details of what that life entails but a peek into what it might “feel” like. With deft use of materials and techniques, I love how his marks range between rigid and controlled details and loose and dancing fragments, helping us enter into a surreal environment that hovers on the edges of resolution. I also really appreciate a quiet dignity that permeates the work. This is the work of an artist who observes intensely and empathizes deeply with his subjects.
Rafael’s new drawings wake us up in the middle of the night, or maybe a little later—at 4 a.m., forever from dawn—and lead us silently through a timeless, haunted, rural world that is also America at this moment—temporarily frozen but offering a rare opportunity to quietly inspect our often dark works. These are wonderful drawings, rich with mysterious content and gorgeously made.
There are sometimes when I awake from a dream and just have this sort of "What was that about? feeling. These pictures give me that sensation. Something is happening but I don't know what it is.
Often, there is a strange juxtaposition of things placed in a space that leaves me wanting an explanation. I am just left to wonder.
I am fascinated by the way the media is handled and this contributes to a kind of narration. Much of the work is somewhat tightly rendered, leaving a certain expectation. However, amidst this rendering, there are moments when a person, place or thing or an aspect of a person place or thing is rendered by a mere splotch of paint. What my mind does with that splotch is very curious. It tends to turn what seems like just a splotch into part of the narrative. In one of these drawings the splotch becomes a person. Perhaps, there is just enough information in that mark to say it is a person or perhaps, as it exists amidst that which is more rendered, the context influences the splotch enough to suggest it is a person. Perhaps it is a combination of the two. Anyway, I like the character that my mind invents and I like the way this work gets me to participate and react.
Paul Salsieder (PSG Gallery Assistant)
In Rafael Francisco Salas's drawings there is a somber feeling of transience. His figures seem almost incorporeal, as if glancing at them too long might force their disappearance. In his work, there is a documentation of a world in the process of disappearing, perhaps a world that has disappeared already with vistas of flat fields being swallowed up by mechanized agriculture, the irregular farms and parcels dissolve into pixels as the information age manifests its destiny over the land of an agrarian past.