Rafael Francisco Salas included in Milwaukee exhibit featuring two Latinx artists

“Cruces/Crossroads,” a two-person exhibition featuring Ripon College Professor of Art Rafael Francisco Salas and Chicago artist Herman Aguirre Martinez, will be on view March 25 through May 13 at Portrait Society Gallery of Contemporary Art, 207 E. Buffalo St., Milwaukee. A reception will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, March 24, with both artists in attendance. An artist’s talk will be presented at noon on Saturday, March 25.

The work of these artists exists at the intersections of experience and identity. The title refers to the complementary and also contradictory nature of two Latinx artists who together create an expansive meditation on rural and urban experience, the conflicts of establishing an American life from immigrant roots, and the spiritual and poetic power that painting has to describe the “cruces” or crossroads that Aguirre and Salas have experienced in their lives.

Salas grew up in a mixed-race family in rural Wisconsin. The displacement of this hybrid experience creates a psychological underpinning in his artwork.

The gallery states: “Salas subtly exposes social and political divides in imagery that also describes the crossroads of his own upbringing. The result is a mercurial, multicultural reflection on rural America. His paintings offer haunted, wistful descriptions of county fairs, farm chores and landscapes that Salas describes as portraying ‘an indignant desire for a dream continually just beyond reach.’ Salas takes influences from the old masters and brings them to light with a conceptual awareness and a contemporary fracturing.”

Salas has a bachelor’s degree from Macalester College and a master of fine arts degree from The New York Academy of Art. He has had solo and two-person exhibitions across the country. He also frequently writes about art for “NewCity Art Chicago,” “Urban Milwaukee” and other publications.

Martinez is a Mexican American artist and a faculty member of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where he also earned his MFA. His work explores the corporeal nature of memory. It is a testament to a community struggling with violence and the desire to remember the victims. He was raised in the Back of the Yards neighborhood of Chicago, where, he has stated, violence is “visible throughout.” Memorials exist poignantly on the streets and sidewalks.

Aguirre addresses the violence of local gangs as well as Mexican drug cartels by applying thick paint to make sculptural compositions that bear the gravity of remorse. The weight, the subjects, the act of adoration for the deceased, and the time invested in contemplation conflate into what feels like a sense of refusal to abandon the ideals of culture, legacy and community.

He is one of eight individuals to be awarded the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship for Performing and Visual Arts in 2017 and has had solo and group exhibitions around the country.

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