This year at Volta Basel, Beers is proud to present a brand new body of work consisting of ten large-scale paintings by Andrew Salgado, entitled, This is Not the Way to Disneyland. These paintings, most around 200x200cm in size, mark something of a turn in Salgado’s practice, where his typically gestural, bold technique has effortlessly adopted a freer sense of abstraction and freedom, an almost crude approach, and a saturated, almost saccharine color-scheme.
Each work in the series could - in its own right - evolve into a greater body of work in itself, however, Salgado is never one to work within confines: growing from what he felt as an overriding sense of restriction and somberness from his last body of work (Storytelling, October 2014), here he leaps from one idea to the next, incorporating wildly contemporary, palimpsest-like mark-making; areas of high-contrast and rich saturation creating an almost non-stop array of visual stimuli; an increasingly gutsy, almost crudely impasto technique; and even a self-conscious use of materiality and kitsch: glitter, collage, an ‘anything goes’ sense of materiality and even dollar-store gemstones. The titular piece, ‘Welcome to Disneyland’, is a 250x250cm play to the tropes found in religious painting, features a young man with a patterned overlay that Salgado dubs the Mickey Swastika: a logo of sorts created by overlapping contour-line drawings of the ubiquitous classic Mickey Mouse design. The entire commentary, awash in candy-colors and sunny hues, belies its subversive intention, begging the viewer to consider that which seems blissfully happy and all-too-sweet often is not how it appears.
The title for the exhibition was taken from the words ostensibly spoken by the 13 year-old victim of serial killer William Bonin and his four friends, who sexually assaulted and murdered countless boys in Florida in the ‘80s. One boy was picked up believing he was being given a ride to Disneyland, and at one point along the journey, apparently said the horrific – albeit lyrical – words that Salgado appropriated here. Salgado, himself a victim of a hate-crime in 2008, has often used his art to comment on ideas of misanthropy and the nihilistic tendencies of human nature, and here he returns to similar ideas previously explored in exhibitions such as 2010’s Paint Your Black Heart Red (Oslo) and 2012’s The Misanthrope (London). For Salgado, the fascination is one in which the artist uses art to explore those dark, ubiquitous concepts of human nature, but his feat here is the play between darkness and light, as though he’s just having fun with it all. One thinks of, Oh!, so ambivalently named, so direct and aggressive, and apparently inspired (according to Salgado,) by a conical children’s paper party hat he found lying about his studio. This should be a ‘fun’ painting, but something about its immediacy and the subject’s lackluster gaze keeps the viewer at a distance.
As a whole, the works comment on mob-mentality, indoctrination, human emotion, and concealment. Not incidentally, Walt Disney himself has often been criticized as being a Nazi-propagandist, Anti-Semite, misogynist, and racist, with the corporation even funding early Nazi propaganda films. For Salgado, any one singular or overly focused reading is misguided; the artist is most intent for viewers to peel back this candy-colored veneer to touch upon what is unspoken, unseen, or simply overlooked both in our own personal histories but also in our shared collective memory as a society.
Salgado, it seems, is having fun with this playful subversion – with titles such as ‘Freakazoid’, ‘Fruit Punch’, and - at long last - Salgado’s first entirely un-figurative work to date, ‘For You’, a self-portrait of sorts, depicts a detached hand dipped in black paint. As Salgado himself has said, his biggest accomplishment with this body of work was opening more doors for himself than those he has closed. Salgado’s growing mythology seems endless, bizarre, compelling, and somewhat subversive. That odd little Mickey Swastika seems a bizarrely appropriate, perfectly off-kilter analogy, an endless circle of ideas, inspirations, and techniques that travel forward but paradoxically return to where they started.