Luis Salaberría

Panta Rhei

Though not widely known outside Madrid, Luis Salaberría is hardly a newcomer; he has been exhibiting for fifteen years, albeit erratically. Throughout this period, his work has been consistent in its use of a personal imagery even while undergoing a noticeable evolution. For years the artist has deployed an array of childlike personages, which he calls “Pepitos”—figures from an iconography somewhere between innocence and perversion. As his work has developed, however, the sense of innocence has receded, and he has gradually placed more emphasis on the perverse dimension of his work. Not one of those artists whose work grows simpler as they mature, Salaberría has gradually abandoned the ethereal quality his images used to have to accentuate the tensions that they hold. Indeed, the tension between opposites now seems the very foundation of the work. The childlike appearance of Salaberría’s characters, for example, contrasts with a crude eroticism at times bordering on the obscene. Other figures, with a demeanor initially suggesting a sort of Victorian respectability, become associated instead with primitive sexual or scatological acts.

Salaberría uses a wide range of media and techniques, including some neglected by the contemporary art world: In a fascinating series he created a few years ago, he used ceramic, for example. While not a master of every technique he employs, Salaberría makes up for any deficiencies through the intensity he brings to bear on each new medium. (Indeed, in an interview almost ten years ago, Salaberría stated that what he seeks in a work of art, whether his own or someone else’s, is precisely that, intensity.) “Lugar imaginario destinado a las solteras” (Imaginary Place for Single Women; 2004) is the title of Salaberría’s recent series of silk screens. They contain all sorts of hybrids, of which man-animal combinations are the most recurrent, suggesting the eternal human duality: an animal nature that persists even within civilization.

While his work is largely derived from a sort of semiconscious play, it is not entirely derived from the irrational. Instead, it operates on a terrain where instinct relates to calculation as in a sort of mirror game. The subject is connected to his own irrationality in a relation in which what is supposed to be pleasurable often turns out to be painful. This subject might be identified as a socialized being—thus the respectable appearance of many of the artist’s figures—yet is often reduced to an infantile state, becoming quite helpless at times. More explicitly than in Salaberría’s earlier work, the pictorial space in this series is created by superimposition, with a relatively clearly defined figure being laid over a plane of more nebulous gestural activity. These distinct spaces function as metaphors for the symbolic realms with which the work is concerned, the social and the private, and their juxtaposition corresponds to the concurrence of cultured and bestial aspects within any human being.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.