Interview: Souther Salazar Discusses “Souvenirs” at Jonathan LeVine Gallery

by Max KauffmanPosted on

This Saturday, May 18, Jonathan LeVine Gallery will present a new body of work from Souther Salazar titled “Souvenirs.” In his paintings and drawings, Salazar tells stories of magic places. These places are peaceful, and the denizens of the different areas play nicely together. They wander through this world and into the next by way of portals and secret passages located within the landscape. Throughout all of it, there is whimsy, adventure and a sense of exploration.

Recently, Salazar and his wife, Monica Choy, went on a several-month-long jaunt around the country to complete a project called the Trading Tortoise. As they stopped at cities across the U.S., people would bring them objects. Some had stories attached, some old memories, some were personal creations the owners were excited to share. In return, they would get a trade: someone else’s story, creation, memory or moment. A massive community was fostered. Souther Salazar recently sat down to talk with Hi-Fructose about his upcoming solo show, “Souvenirs,” and his reflections on the Trading Tortoise. Read our exclusive interview below.

The Trading Tortoise Project did a lot as far as fostering community-building links across the country, giving light to people’s stories and ultimately finding you (and Monica) a new place to call home in Portland. How are you channeling these ideas and adventures into your show?

There is still so much swimming around in my brain from that adventure… I feel like it will be on my mind for years to come, if not the rest of my life. There was/is so much to think about that it has been very hard to fully process. I’ve been trying to just let it come out in whatever way feels right at this time… which means some of the pieces relate to the experience by focusing on very specific memories or places, and others are about a much blurrier, larger picture. The memories of the adventure and the connections we found with people through their objects and stories are all mixed up and starting to populate the other worlds that live in my head.

What is the theme of the show?

I’ve been thinking a lot about how people relate to the little things they carry with them through life. Things that are collected and kept as a sort of souvenir, or a tangible link to help remember a time or person or place. It’s kind of a weird, sad and comforting thing that most of us seem to do. Sometimes it’s just a scrap in your pocket and sometimes it’s an entire room of carefully collected objects. A lot of the pieces in the show are about some sort of mixture between the process of finding a souvenir and the power it has to trigger memories. We tried to travel light and not collect too many things (outside of the project) while we were exploring, but we would still pick up a few small objects here and there. A few of them are mixed into sculptures for the show. Other pieces are sort of like my own re-created souvenir collections of favorite things seen across the miles… like big trucks, rolling hills, water towers, abandoned gas stations and old signs.

Is it strange to make paintings and sculptures in a new place? Were you able to make work on the road at all?

The project was much more all-consuming than we realized; most of our time not on the road was devoted to maintaining and collecting all the trades and stories of the Trading Tortoise, so it was hard to create anything that felt very finished. I did draw and sketch and write a lot, and we took way too many photos… a lot of that stuff will continue to be filtered into the Trading Tortoise zines and website. We also continued to evolve and add to the Tortoise throughout the journey, incorporating contributions from other artists and things we found along the way.

What can show goers expect with this body of work?

A range of medium to large paintings on wood panels, drawings on paper, some collections of sculptures and an installation of the Trading Tortoise (in collaboration with Monica Choy).

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