Andrew Salgado on working hard, worrying less and staying razor sharp in a cut-throat industry

Hailed as one of the world's most promising figurative painters, Andrew Salgado is nothing short of a master in his field. With 11 sold-out exhibitions under his belt and endless endorsements from critics, Salgado's work has been captivating audiences in every corner of the globe.

Personally, I've been a fan of the artist's work for some time, recently visiting Beers London to view The Snake – a particularly moving body of work inspired by the tragic Orlando massacre in 2016.

Alongside his art, Andrew is an advocate of several charities, including the Terrence Higgins Trust and Pride London, as well as being a patron for Diversity Role Models. He has been featured in a wealth of national publications including GQ, The Evening Standard, The Independent and Metro.

With so many exciting things in the pipeline, we caught up with Andrew to find out more about his current projects, ongoing challenges and what inspires him...

When did you realise you wanted to be an artist?

I think I always knew this was my calling. At a point, I was thinking architecture, but even that felt too restrictive. I started university in Sciences and then after one semester just felt like I was in the wrong body - I needed to pursue arts, and so I did. As a child I was always very creative; I had a playroom where I would abscond myself for days on end and play with LEGO, or build things from clay and construction paper.

I can’t see myself in any other career. I’m very fortunate to do what I do, and I’m aware of that. I was that isolated, nerdy kid that was happier by myself playing make-believe than playing sports. I still am, haha.

Where did your big break come from?

Well, I mean…each day, week, month, and year is hard. There’s no such thing as a ‘big break’ that results in a giant cakewalk, because art is competitive and a lot of hard work, on a continuous basis. However I think my first push in the right direction was being selected for the Recent Graduates section of the Affordable Art Fair, in 2009. From there I got a bit of exposure, a few collectors, and one thing sorta-kinda led to the next.

But I’ve never been a ‘cool’ or ‘trendy’ artist. I’ve never been collected by Saatchi or spanked on the butt by some Golden Spoon (or whatever the appropriate saying is), so I’ve always believed in grit and determination. One of my biggest pet peeves is when younger artists approach me with a professional question that starts with “Now that you’ve made it…” and I just think, oh boy, kid, have you got it all wrong!

What challenges did you face at the beginning of your career? And how did you overcome them?

Confidence. Sales. Ability. I’m still overcoming them. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a completely different artist and person than I was back then, but these are harbingers that always rear their ugly little heads.

Dawn (2017), Oil and Pastel on Paper mounted on Linen, 140x88cm

Dawn (2017), Oil and Pastel on Paper mounted on Linen, 140x88cm

Dusk (2017), Oil and Pastel on Paper mounted on Linen, 140x88cm

Dusk (2017), Oil and Pastel on Paper mounted on Linen, 140x88cm

Your style has continuously evolved throughout your career. Has this been a conscious move, or does it happen naturally as you’re influenced by the things around you?

It is both equally conscious and organic. I have to be aware of the relevant ‘trends’ (despite the pejorative connotations of that word) that are occurring in the art world. But at the same time, I feel like I’ve been able to tread water better than some of my peers who have peaked and since disappeared because I am quite stubborn and determined to do things the way I feel is necessary. I learn from the trends, but I’ve never bucked to them completely.

But I also bore easily, so I’m always trying to challenge myself in the studio. Too often artists find something that ‘clicks’ for them and they are unwilling or scared to break from that comfort zone. I have the personality type that thinks “ok, did that. worked. What's next?” And it's benefitted me.

I also think that living and working in London is so cut-throat I have no choice but to stay razor sharp - both speaking professionally but also in terms of the technical and creative advancements that are opening in the studio. The art world moves in leaps, and nobody wants to be left behind. So staying relevant is crucial. And I try to make each body of work something that will both surprise and entice.

Who or what is your biggest influence right now?

I’d have to say Tal R, Sanya Kantarovsky, Zachary Armstrong, Matisse and Uglow. It's a bit of an odd mix. Bacon and Gauguin are always there, lurking in the back.

Your portraits are extremely captivating. How do you select your subjects? 

Whoever feels right, at the time. I just used the same subjects for the past … what, two and a half shows? Haha. Does that make sense? I am bringing in new faces for the next show but it's getting trickier and trickier for me to find the right ones. Sometimes they click, sometimes they don’t. I dunno. Wish I had a better answer.

Do you ever suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’? And if so, are there any techniques you use to try and overcome it?

I did, and do - to a small degree - I finally was able to overcome it this year with the release of my monograph TEN and the coinciding survey show at the Canadian High Commission. But I think now the issue is the anxiety; I have a new rule where there’s no Instagram when I leave the studio because everyone is presenting this highly cultivated reflection of themselves designed to make their neighbour jealous. And as an artist there’s a tendency to scroll through that and feel inadequate, or bitter. Which is not my natural tendency.

I want my peers to succeed, why wouldn’t I? The problem is that there are far too many horrible vicious people and terrible egos in the art world. So it cuts you down. Okay, next question.

Vigil (2017), Oil on Linen, Handpanted Ash Frame, 48x33cm

Vigil (2017), Oil on Linen, Handpanted Ash Frame, 48x33cm

You’re originally from Canada. How does the art scene differ between Canada and the UK? 

I answered this question a lot when I first moved here. I think Canada is more traditional. I only say that because it's been the trajectory of my career - to break from what and how I learned to do things back in the Canadian academic system. But maybe that's bleeding internationally now with the advent of social media. Where you are means less and less, right? The UK shook my boat, but maybe that's just where I was and what I was looking for in my mid-20s. In reality, I’m a lot less knowledgable with respect to what's happening in Canada right now. I’ll show there with ANGELL Gallery in Autumn 2018.

You’ve got a huge following on Instagram. How important has social media been in your career?

Very important. It's a big part in how I got started. But I’m not inherently a business man or an advertiser. I get emails from people or I'm asked in interviews, like, “oh you’re such a savvy marketer”, which I kind of feel is a back-handed compliment. I’m not a savvy marketer. I’m just not a fucking idiot. I won’t make the same mistake twice. Artists always ask for my ‘insider tip’ like I’m harbouring a goose with a golden egg. Unlike most artists, I answer my emails.

Is there one piece of advice you’ve received that has stuck with you?

My high school art teacher told me to take risks. My course director at Chelsea told me to buy the best materials you can afford. I always say to work twice as hard and worry half as much.

What’s your favourite gallery and why?

I think I have to say Beers London here, don’t I? I mean, they started my career and I’ve worked with them forever and they’re my best buddies. They really want good things for artists. They’re super professional and compassionate. The programme is strong, as well.

Internationally, Contemporary Fine Arts has a killer programme. But it's very high-end, blue chip: Tal R, Chapman Brothers, Dana Schultz, that sorta thing. I also think Eigen Art is brilliant. Bjerggaard in Copenhangen. Johannes Vogt in NYC is probably my dream gallery to show with. There are a lot of wonderful spaces internationally. A lot of younger spaces in London doing fabulous things too.

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us

Um….I’m half Mexican. I have a secret food blog.

What’s next?

I’ll show in 75 Works on Paper, opening in November at Beers London. Then a one-two punch in Cape Town with Christopher Moller Gallery…starting with the Cape Town Art Fair in February 2018 with a show I’m calling Dirty Linen, followed thereafter by the gallery show, still untitled, in March. I won’t be back to show in London until fall 2019. By that time either people will be salivating for it, or they’ll have forgotten about me entirely. Hopefully it's the former!

All images courtesy of the artist