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Dark Roadhouses, Midwest Landscapes by Rafael Francisco Salas at Latino Arts

Dec. 27, 2016
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Watching Jolene, 1:00am by Rafael Francisco Salas

Rafael Francisco Salas invokes truth and memory. It may be his own eyes and experience, but there is something familiar in his paintings and sculptural installations. Flickers of recognition come in the glow of Christmas lights or neon signs decorating dark roadhouse interiors, or references to long prairies and bales of hay reaped from the Midwestern landscape.

In the exhibition “Pastoral Testimony by Rafael Francisco Salas” at Latino Arts Gallery, the painting Tunnel directs us down a long stretch of a room, with a two-toned wood floor and something that is maybe a pool table and Bud Light sign in the distance. Salas purposefully blurs the details, takes them out of focus but still retains the atmosphere of place. And then there are the floating shapes. Like the zipping blips of light from a bright disco ball, flecks of color are suspended in the moment as they careen around the room. In painted form, they are like exploratory alien traces dancing merrily on a mundane Earth.

Salas transforms prosaic references in his paintings as well as installation pieces, sometimes combining media in a way that brings the vignette even more fully into our immediate environment. Watching Jolene, 1:00am places an armchair in the gallery, covered with vintage floral upholstery of perhaps circa 1974. Empty beer cans are scattered around the chair, which faces a painting on the wall like a television. The picture is an empty street at nighttime, overlooked by a full yellow moon. It is deserted except for a woman wearing a bright pink ensemble. Her wide-legged trousers echo the dated chair upholstery, which is repeated in painted patches on the canvas. Her face and other bits of the scene are distorted into blocks of color, like a technological breakdown into pixilation. It is a present time that includes the past, tinged with an emptiness that those drained beer cans cannot fill.

Salas describes his art as “strange, rural poetry of aspiration and poignant reality, a striver’s endeavor of high and low culture, situated between the elevated and the abject.” With empathic paintings and installations, his exhibition “Pastoral Testimony” brings us to the crossroads he describes.

Through Feb. 23 at Latino Arts, 1028 S. Ninth St.


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