An interview with Rafael Francisco Salas about his 2015 exhibition Wasted Days & Wasted Nights.
Rachel Bruya (RB): You were born and raised in Wisconsin. Can you talk about that experience, and how it informs this body of work?
Rafael Francisco Salas (RFS): Yes. Autobiography is certainly a component. I try to create a more expansive and universal connection that the viewer can observe. I grew up and have returned to rural Wisconsin. The landscape and psychology of that place enters into my work, but I find it important to develop intersections with art history and contemporary art as well.
RB: One of the first things I noticed when viewing your work is the scale. Both the sculptures and the drawings seem to be about the size of a person (in the case of the sculptures, slightly larger). How do you determine their scale?
RFS: The scale helps the viewer achieve a connection to the landscape and the human figure. I mean that the viewer can interact with the work uniquely because of the size. The artwork and the viewer become equal players so the viewer can hopefully enter into it in a visceral way.
Rafael Francisco Salas, Lamb, Mixed Media
RB: The Ghent Altarpiece is significant historically, and also very important to the show. Can you share how it relates to your work?
RFS: I have been looking at paintings of the Northern Renaissance for many years. Jan van Eyck, Albrecht Durer, and Hans Holbein, among others, have all been deeply influential for me. They use beautiful and even whimsical color and imagery, but combine it with a sense of the tragic and a formal severity.
Regarding the Ghent Altarpiece specifically, there are several panels on this large artwork that I combine with my own experience. The Mystic Lamb is used as a direct symbol of my mother's sheep farm in rural Wisconsin. Other elements in the show work more poetically to echo the mood and landscape of Van Eyck's work. Though I don't try to invest my artwork with specific religious content, I do try to echo the Ghent Altarpiece by creating objects of devotion. The altarpiece was meant to inspire contemplation and a feeling of transcendence in combination with worldly imagery, and these are my goals as well.
Rafael Francisco Salas, Allegorical Portrait of Freddy Fender, Mixed Media
RB: Your Allegorical Portrait of Freddy Fender has received a lot of attention from viewers. Can you talk about your relationship to Freddy Fender and how you came to make this piece?
RFS: Freddy Fender was a Tejano musician, and a prominent voice from my childhood. My father's family were migrant farmers from southern Texas and felt connected to Fender's music because he shared their Mexican-American experience. His stature as a kind of Mexican Elvis—lots of glitter combined with Spanish lyrics and a Pancho Villa mustache—inspired me to sculpt this work as a heroic yet uncanny and maudlin figure, transformed into allegory. He exemplifies the aspirations but also the disappointments and conflicts of the Mexican-American experience in rural Wisconsin. He acts as a father figure in the show and sings to the lamb through a veil of nostalgia, distortion, and noise.