California-based Souther Salazar is a mixed media artist and zine dreamer whose varied projects combine the narrative aspect of children’s book illustration with a richly developed fine art sensibility. His increasingly complex artworks transport the viewer into a magical, vibrant world that is as heartwarming as it is visually striking.
Souther Salazar was born in 1978 in Hayward, CA. As a teenager, he discovered John Porcellino’s self-published King-Cat Comics and Stories and was inspired to make his own photocopied mini-comics and zines. With names like Fervler & Razzle — a beautifully weird collage of ideas, techniques and text that told a tale about an ancient giant bird called Fervler and “either a squirrel or a mouse or a cat” called Razzle — or Inchworms & Mouse Miles — which Salazar has described as “some lumpy ideas that I carefully uncrumpled from my pockets and tried to smooth out real nice” — his zines present a diverse mishmash of collages, comics, drawings, photos and ramblings. They are creatively assembled, with playful layouts, foldout centrefolds and sewn binding, printed utilizing a variety of coloured paper stocks that enhance their presence as delightful, handmade objects.
Over time his developing body of work began to appear in high-profile publications such as Juxtapoz, Giant Robot and Kramers Ergot and a dedicated fanbase for his work began to emerge. Meanwhile, as his vision became too big to limit to the page, Salazar began exploring more diverse forms while attending the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, which he graduated from in 2003.
Since then, his projects have taken on a grander scale — Salazar exhibits collages, paintings, drawings and sculptures in increasingly dense and frenzied installations that encourage exploration and discovery — appearing in galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Brazil, Toronto and Tokyo. He often incorporates found objects and layers of assemblage into his dreamy compositions, combining a childhood obsession with junk sculpture with a later appreciation of Robert Rauschenburg’s combine paintings (artworks that incorporated various objects into a painted canvas surface, effectively creating a hybrid of painting and sculpture) and a love of primitive and outsider art — collapsing all these references into something uniquely his own.
Salazar has described himself as a person with escapist tendencies, someone who has learned to build worlds that offer multiple points of view — half-remembered, half-imagined places where stories can develop and take on a life of their own. He sees his artistic production as a space where he can take advantage of real joy: “When I can go into my little turtle shell and have some freedom to explore and escape into my imagination, I am infinitely more productive and happy.”
For Salazar, artmaking is an evocation of a positive personal outlook, a way to speak through images with a desire to be accessible and inclusive instead of distancing. Through his work, Salazar has found his own unique, multi-coloured path to putting something uplifting out into the world.
THE TRADING TORTOISE
The Trading Tortoise is a traveling art project developed by Souther Salazar and Monica Choy with the goal of creating a unique community experience while exploring America through objects and stories.
The husband and wife team created a sculptural installation — in the form of a large tortoise-shaped trading post — with a plan to travel and set it up in different towns and cities throughout the nation, envisioning a performative scenario that would allow them to connect people in different places through a network of traded treasures and a mutual love of giving and receiving.
Using a patron-based approach to taking their artful lemonade stand of an idea on the road, they funded a five-month excursion through an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign (where they offered a range of hand-made items as incentives) that was backed by nearly 400 sponsors.
Like two traveling protagonists in one of Salazar’s utopic paintings, the duo took to the road in mid-June, launching the Trading Tortoise at Narwhal Projects in Toronto, one of the few Canadian stops on an otherwise America-focused route. For many months, Salazar and Choy traveled across the United States, moving from city to city, setting up their art-centric trading post in more than 30 accommodating spaces along the way.
Relying on audiences and objects to breathe life into their playful art scenario, the duo encouraged those who attended to part with something meaningful from their lives in exchange for something from somebody else’s life that carried a similar emotional weight. Each traded item was tagged with the person’s name, location and a number — and was catalogued at the tradingtortoise.com website, where they documented the many layers of their travel experiences through countless photographs, encouraging fans of the project to follow the adventure online.
Choy and Salazar returned to their home in California at the end of October and immediately went full-force into producing, packaging and mailing out their various patron rewards. In November, the ending of their road trip was celebrated with a closing party at The Luggage Store in San Francisco, where the remaining 120 unique items were put on display and raffled off in order to find new homes for them.
The experience of traveling throughout America in such a playful and interactive manner will serve as inspiration for a solo show Salazar has in May 2013 at Jonathan Levine Gallery in NYC; the exhibition will feature a new body of work that includes paintings, drawings and sculptures inspired by time spent inside the belly of the Trading Tortoise.