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Rafael Francisco Salas and Mike Ringo White

On view through October 30, 2009

Gallery Night: Friday, October 16

Rafael Francisco Salas, 36, a graduate of the New York Academy of Art, grew up near Wautoma, Wisconsin. He says that his childhood in the country, surrounded by Christmas tree farms (one of the few industries in the area), afforded him lots of time to be alone, to read and to look. After living and working in Minneapolis, London, New Mexico and Brooklyn, NY, Salas now chairs the art department of Ripon College, in Ripon, Wisconsin. Perhaps the sense of solitude in a rural area still pervades his paintings. For three months of the summer of 2009, Salas worked on one large triptych (each panel 60 x 36 inches) for this exhibition at Portrait Society.


The painting features the writer Flannery O’Connor (Wise Blood and Everything That Rises Must Converge, 1952) on one end of a couch and the front man of the ’80s Punk band The Pogue’s, Shane Macgowan, on the other. Salas states that “the triptych creates a theatrical, quite fictional stage to convey the nature and anxiety of the artistic process including topics such as authorship, audience and legacy.”  The heart of the painting is about artistic process. O’Connor spent her later life on a farm called Andalusia in Georgia, with peacocks and other exotic fowl. She was dying of Lupus. Salas seems to relate to the inward, private existence of this artist. Shane Macgowan on the other hand is purely self destructive. Drugs and alcohol (the creative capital of too many rock stars) have taken their toll. Ironically, they also fueled the brilliant compassion, sensitivity and showmanship that made him great. Alas, what powers us often also destroys us. At the opposite ends of the couch, Shane and Flannery represent two tendencies: to suffer privately or to suffer publicly. But their goals are the same as they must give order to their challenging internal conditions, or turn that chaos into a form to be shared (what we call “art”). The horizontal expanse of coffee table that connects them is littered with beer cans and bottles. The middle panel of the painting functions as a transitional space depicting a copy of a 19th Century folk art painting of a cat eating a peacock hanging on a paneled wall with steer horns hanging above it. This middle panel contains only “things,” but it forms the connection between the two human subjects and represents how ‘things’ become a form of communication too. This panel may also be a symbolic stand-in for a third figure. 


In all of Salas’ recent work, there tends to be visual interruptions, like cosmic static moving across the picture plane. This might represent the general condition of unstoppable acts of deterioration, hesitation, obliteration as well as the overall struggle to make images. Salas spent months painting this ambitious triptych and then when he felt the panels were done, he returned to them and painted a cloud of controlled abstract daubs and finger prints over the top, essentially defiling the painting.

Salas seems to insist that his paintings hold their origin of paint colors and smears and unformed masses (thoughts) while carrying on the job of representation and narrative at the same time. The beginning, the middle and the end become mixed up points of contact. The formed and unformed and the raw paint that is pulled from the palette he uses, bring us out of the illusion and comfort of the painting. As viewers we are held in the artist’s emotional terrain of tension and uncertainty that comes with the creative process.

Along with the Untitled Triptych, the Portrait Society exhibition features both oil and pencil studies that Salas did in preparation for the larger work, as well as an assortment of his earlier work. 


Review, Urban Milwaukee, Kat Kneevers

Review, Shepherd Express, Judith Ann Moriarty

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