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Arte al Limite: Salustiano - Object of Desire

Beautiful, disturbing and profound. So is the painting of this Spanish artist, red pictures in which he fuses Renaissance thoroughness and a perfection which befits in canons of advertising. In this exclusive interview with "Arte Al Límite", Salustiano reminisces about his begginings, and how his realistic proposal has captivated a very diverse audience, both in Europe and in Asia, as well as in the United States.

By Carolina Lara

Is it possible to find beauty in times of transgression?
Salustiano thinks so. His works have changed the limits of portrait painting. He approaches the human figure with the rigour of a Renaissance painter, through a detailed study of form and a clear brush stroke. However, the characters are decontextualised. They are lone busts and faces over an empty and monochrome space only limited by the canvas itself. Bodies appear like in dreams where everything turns red.

Red: that's the colour he likes to use in order to reflect in its perfection a deep and complex peace. It would be difficult to guess that his models have been found on the street: "I'm interested in atemporal and serene faces, with a generous expression in the mouth and a transparent gaze. I want it to have the appearance of eternity".

The work of this artist begins when he photographs the model. Although he usually does not talk much to them, there is always a complicity: "You realise that it's not just a serene or beautiful face, they are very special people, and curiously many of them are related to music".


The impact of his art is undeniable. For example, he takes part in "The missing peace, artist consider the Dalai Lama", an exhibition which goes around the world since 2006.
His work "Reencarnación" ("Reincarnation") was chosen to be the cover of the catalogue. It's a portrait of a Chinese girl who looks at the spectator with disquieting sweetiness, and in which the painter on the one hand, suggests the hypothetical case of a reincarnation of the Dalai Lama in a daughter of the country invading Tibet, and on the other hand tells the story of the girl herself, a victim of China's family politics who was left in an orphanage.

During the opening of the exhibition in Los Angeles (US), the actress Sharon Stone watched the picture for ten minutes. She wanted to buy it. But the work had been the first one to be sold, and now it belongs to the pro-Tibet campaign's collection.
After this disappointment, she commissioned Salustiano to paint a portrait of her. "The painting I have in mind will be reminiscent of Holbein. Serene and powerful. Wearing red, looking at the spectator…".

In his artistic name, Salustiano García Cruz dispenses with his surname. As in his painting, in which he renounces superfluous details and adheres to a pure concept. "I have never been interested in 'the subject', there is no narrative line in my works. My paintings don't try to 'tell something', they are just supposed to cause a sensation in the spectator. I try to deeply touch the viewer. It's a really calculated work, but it pursues an emotional purpose".

How do you try to to touch the viewer?
There is no master plan, it depends on the relationship between model and spectator. At first I try to make the viewer shudder, because it means that my work has reached his emotions, just where I want to go. But after this disarming impact, what I really want to transmit is calm. After all, my will is infinitely beneficial, I work within the realm of spirit.

How would you describe the development of your work, from the beginning to the "Red" series? What are your strategies and influences?
I'll try to sum it up! My first exhibitions were some site-specific artworks that I did in collaboration with several multidisciplinary artists. Subsequently, I felt attracted to a synthetic Expressionism with a certain touch of humour, which developed to some kind of "Neo-classical Expressionism" - if that's possible! Later I changed loose brush strokes and textures for a perfectly glazed surface and for paintings with decontextualized and oneiric elements, closely related to Surrealism and again with a lot of humour. After this Surrealist-Baroque stage, I started something completely different, minimalist paintings composed of white figures on white background.
I went to Italy in 1992. The study of Italian Renaissance raised my interest in mathematical composition, and when I came back to Spain I wanted to bring the same emotions I felt there, to the people.

How do you face a blank canvas?
With self-censorship. Artists in Antiquity were restrained by very strict rules about the way the characters should be depicted - particularly in religious subjects. There was even a contract which specified the exact amount of pigments they should use. That's how some of the works I love the most have been created. And I think that's the right method: continence, humbleness, self-sacrifice. I do it voluntarily. Art nowadays has no limits, so I choose them by myself: a red background, a figure and space.

Why red?
Because it's full of connotations and intentions. It comes from Latin coloratus (colorare, "to colour"), and it's the colour par excellence. Red has the power of transcending its own condition as a colour. It's more than a colour, it's a symbol which suggests beauty and atemporality, but at the same time strength, it's the colour of blood, of religion and of the chosen ones.
Red in my paintings is actually a metaphor of heaven and of the transcendental.

Beauty, academic perfection, minimalist composition… don't you think it all contributes to some kind of commercial tone which plays down the effectiveness of its message? Why "beauty", in times when critical art is needed?
Do we really need critical art? I have never believed in this "pamphlet-art". I think there is a lack of beauty messages in our environment. We are saturated with visual stimuli, artists create shocking images just to attract attention. But in a wall where everybody shouts, sometimes we just want to hear someone who whispers…
Exhibitions and art fairs are full of blood and violence. Is it criticising violence? I don't think so. Do you think a picture of a gagged girl can make someone better? Can it prevent a war, or protect Third World children from prostitution?… I don' t think so. The most of the so-called "social art" is superficial and snobby.
Sometimes artists are asked to do too much. Mend the world!? I just want to make my little piece of universe a bit more beautiful.

Translation: Raúl Molín López

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