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Soledad Salome by Edward J. Sullivan
New York, 2006

Soledad Salome by K. Mitchell Snow
Miami, 2006


Soledad Salome by Edward J. Sullivan
New York, 2006

The following series of remarks will constitute both a personal approach to the art of Soledad Salamé as well as an assessment from an art historical viewpoint.

This mixing of perspectives is inevitable, as Soledad is a person I know and admire, especially for her deep commitment to the literal and figurative roots of her work, and she is an artist who forms part of a long tradition of visual creators who have engaged the earth and the systems of natural flow of elements to make of their art more than visual expressions.

My first acquaintance with Soledad came about in conjunction with the exhibition “Latin American Women Artists 1915-1995,” which was an important show for the context of North American viewers who had relatively limited information about this subject. The exhibition, for which I was an advisor and catalogue essayist, began at the Milwaukee Art Museum in Wisconsin before beginning a national tour.

One of the most compelling pieces in the show, both from the point of view of physical beauty and moving meaning was the “Garden of the Sacred Light” (1994) which consisted of an installation with a wood and glass structure, grass, plants and soil. Unlike the other, static pieces in the show, it was literally a living and growing entity. It served for me as a metaphor for the organic nature of art, a symbol of the symbiotic relationship between creation of visual works and the constantly evolving universe to which all artists react, even in the most unconscious ways. My engagement with this work by Soledad, and my subsequent friendship with the artist, was an important moment for both my realization of the potential of ecological or earth-related art forms and my understanding of the complex artistic personality of Soledad Salamé.

Since that time Soledad and I have had numerous conversations and I have observed the maturity and deepening of her art and its universal references. Soledad Salamé is nothing if not a highly spiritual creator. By saying this, however, I do not by any means wish to suggest a hermetic, closed off personality who ruminates solely within the realm of her own existence. The exchanges we have had in her studio, in exhibitions of other artists’ works and in out-of doors settings, have allowed me to appreciate her as a deeply humanistic individual, acutely aware of the needs of mankind. Her work continues to reflect her concerns regarding the survival of the species based upon replenished resources.

Soledad’s art never falls into the trap of advocacy or pamphleteering. It is consistently grounded in a profound understanding of aesthetic issues, as well as in the history of visual imagery. When observing Soledad Salamé’s art it is inevitable, at least for me, to place it within categories of artists who have inserted themselves within nature in order to evoke in the viewer concepts that are of primal importance to humanity. I have witnessed several of the artist’s large-scale exhibitions over the years and in each of them as I am surrounded by her paintings, prints and installations I place her within a continuous line running through the western tradition of landscape, from the earliest manifestations in Renaissance and Baroque paintings (usually with a religious scene embedded within the image), to the German, British and French Romantics’ experimentations with evocations of nature’s rawest and most violent aspects. Although the nineteenth century masters may have wished to suggest the loftiest human emotions, they were keenly aware of the day-to-day necessities of the flow of nature’s resources, and the beginnings of ecological concerns may be traced to them.

Soledad’s newest production, the series on which she has been almost obsessively working for several years, deals with water—the increasingly fragile and fugitive resource in so many parts of the world. In an era of global warming the acuteness and the necessity of thinking seriously about this most basic of human needs has become her preoccupation.

However, as in every case in the highly poeticized imagination of Soledad, this anxiety takes on a dimension which allows her to merge her fears based on facts with the most evanescently ravishing visual effects. These are observed in her translucent, semiabstract paintings on Mylar; her experiments in resins, pigments and traditional media; and, above all, in her “Water Series,” a lenticular installation that permits the viewer to approximate the physical sensations of being immersed within waves, waterfalls, and cascades.

Soledad Salamé engages a multitude of the senses. Although her pieces constitute a principally visual experience, the tactility of the surfaces (or their implied fluidity), as well as oblique references to the sensation of sound, compel me to think of those nineteenth-century panoramas which, often accompanied by music (to form a Gesamptkunstwerk or “total work of art”), attempted to give audiences an experience of being surrounded by the elements.

Soledad Salamé is a thoroughly modern artist whose work relates in a highly intellectual way to the elements of past visual expression. Her continued formal experiments complement those of her tireless search for new combinations of media. She is an artist immersed not only in earthly nature but in the cosmos. Her immediate frame of reference is the observed world in which we live, but her ultimate goal is to place our small universe within the context of the larger scheme of existence in the realm of the beyond. It is this transcendent aspect of that I find so uplifting and so intriguing, and it is renewed by each new encounter with her work.

Soledad Salome by K. Mitchell Snow
Miami, 2006

It seems inevitable that water should become the central topic for the art of Soledad Salamé.
In retrospect, it is easy to detect two quests flowing like great currents through her works: a desire to master the formal challenges of transparency and a conceptual fascination with capturing moments of time in a way that reveals the world to us anew.

No other material comes closer to uniting these paired challenges than water. It is at once transparent and reflective, clear and opaque, flowing and still, constant and ever-changing, an element so charged with the force of life that its very presence evokes a primordial response in us all. Water has been waiting for her creative vision.

It has played a background role in her work for more than a decade.

In “Grotto” (1994) an elliptical curtain of water sustains an arch of rare and unusual plants. On its surface, the work was a continually changing interplay of form, color—a seemingly infinite palate of greens—and texture. At its depth, “Grotto’s” implications are far more profound. Her research into its materials allowed her to create a beautiful installation that also is a self-contained ecosystem.

Salamé returned to the ideas behind “Grotto” again and again over the years, creating works such as “Growth,” whose grassy expanse would have been impossible without regular watering. Although the water was invisible to the viewer, its presence was essential. This is also true of the series of works which followed.

Her concerns about deforestation, which found expression in the variegated greens of her plant-based works, led her to experiment with the emerging, less toxic process of solar etching. The result was a series of prints depicting insects atop thin layers of gold and platinum. The reflective metal surface, ideal for capturing the translucent glimmer of a dragonfly’s wing, was a surrogate for the material that impelled her exploration. Shining, viscous mercury, contaminating the Amazon’s waters from the area’s gold mining, was too dangerous to employ. Drawings on Mylar, used to create plates for the solar etching process, also captured her attention, as she began to experiment with painting directly on its transparent surface as well. This not only produced an entirely new body of work, it also expanded the expressive possibilities of her solar prints. The aquatic environment of the fish she began to create was made out of nothing more than subtle shifts in tonality and layering of color.

Consciously or not, her explorations traced a great circle of life. At the outset, water sustained the plants of her installations. The plants sustained the insects of her solar prints. The insects sustained the fish. By implication, each of them sustains humankind. Now she has returned to the beginning, but her vision has expanded as her mastery of materials has progressed. Water is no longer simply an active agent in the ecology of her creative process; it is water itself she seeks to capture.

Although tiny glass beads mixed with paint initially provided the glimmering illusion of water’s surface, Salamé was determined to more fully capture the dynamism of her subject. After an intensive search for a way to add the dimension of time to her work in two dimensions, she began exploring the potential of lenticular technology. Prepared by her earlier mastery of work on Mylar, Salamé took a medium usually reserved for kitschy commercial graphics and reinvented it. Now her paintings, whose imagery already created a startlingly effective evocation of water’s presence, actually flow with the viewer’s movement.
Still driven by her need to express the essence of water, her vision has turned from the cascade to one of the tiny droplets of water that fall alongside it. Photography—a medium that has long played a supporting role in her work—and its abilities to alter our perceptions of scale now play a central role in her creations.

Like William Blake, the visionary painter poet who saw the universe in a grain of sand, Salamé has created “Continents of Water.” Tiny droplets of water on glass, enlarged and printed on photosensitive aluminum plates or the metallic surfaces that receive the impression of her solar etchings, are transformed into entire geographies.

By probing even the smallest traces of water’s presence, Salamé has opened a vast new perspective and allowed us the opportunity to look on new worlds from the privileged perspective of the heavens. “Continents of Water” repeats an invitation that has been a consistent element of Salamé’s work since its first manifestations. As always, she offers a vision of our world that allows us to pause for a moment and recognize the supreme importance of the simplest things.