Paolo Salvador | Silencios entre el mar, los ríos y montañas

25 January - 25 February 2023 Goodman Gallery, London

Goodman Gallery presents a new suite of allegorical paintings by Peruvian-born, Berlin-based artist Paolo Salvador in partnership with Peres Projects. The artist continues to draw on a developing vocabulary of mythic imagery, commenting on universal themes relating to home and displacement as well as joy and grief. His painting practice presents a distinct “cosmovision” in which art, science and spirituality are intricately intertwined.  

The artist grew up surrounded by dramatic Peruvian scenery, which occurs throughout his work: “that grey sky and the humidity, it evokes so many memories. I believe growing up next to the sea instils a different mindset”. He attended a school with a zoo attached which bred endangered species: “my memories of all the different birdsongs in the morning, birds flying into our classroom and other animals escaping their designated areas – these are unforgettable experiences”. 

Salvador’s canvases present a harmonious cosmological aesthetic defined by a vision of ecosystemic balance in which nature encompasses culture, economy, society and religion. His naked figures, presented alongside plants and howling with various animals, form a distinct visual language through which Salvador acknowledges a long history of mutualism and references ancient Andean and Amazonian representations of animals with anthropomorphic features: “the creatures in his work reflect the deep biodiversity he grew up surrounded by – something that has become increasingly endangered” (Financial Times). 

Salvador’s holistic approach to painting involves carefully considered engagement with his materials: from sourcing clay-based minerals and natural resins, to the physical pressure he exerts on each painterly gesture and the number of breaths he takes with every brushstroke: “every pigment has a particular behaviour once it binds with oil. I respect the nature of each mineral and the role that it plays on the canvas in terms of colour and material”. His approach stems from a belief that painting is a dance guided by intuition, creating expansive planes which bleed into each other, both revealing and concealing: “in my recent works I explore different gesso formulas. I’ve been working lately on the surface itself, its materiality and how to achieve particular textures. I’m constantly thinking about how multiple layers of paint can create images which arouse stronger feelings and sensations, and I invite the viewer to get closer and feel the tactility of each work”.

The artist considers his work to form part of a single body with his latest pieces continuing to unpack his Peruvian heritage in the context of a modern and industrialised world. These evocative paintings – defined by large expanses of richly saturated colour in which wild animals and human beings coexist – probe ideas around beauty and the natural world as well as colonisation and indigenous identity: 

“Understanding and constructing identity is embedded into my practice – a process of discovering and rediscovering. I grew up in the 1990’s, when Peru had just come out of a period of terrorist conflict and had entered into a decade of dictatorship that distorted realities and culture. This was followed by the emergence of the internet and globalisation, which has had a huge impact on how we engage with culture. The crisis made thousands of Peruvians migrate to find a better future but has also created a new sort of folklore, which draws from older histories.” 

Salvador’s large-scale paintings seek to imbue Andean folklore with personal experience while drawing on western art historical influences. In so doing, the artist’s practice perpetuates the belief that passing down stories through generations is an important means for preserving culture and resisting colonial legacies: “there are strong ancient beliefs that still exist from before Spanish colonisation. They merged it with religion to change people’s beliefs, creating a syncretic hybrid belief system. I try to identify and unravel those lost meanings” (Salvador).