Works by Cruz Salazar at Santa Fe Collective
The Messenger-Spirit in human flesh is assigned a dependable, self-reliant, versatile, thoroughly poet existence upon its sojourn in life — From the poem “Destiny” by Gregory Corso
Cruz Salazar is riding a wave of momentum. The Santa Fe- born artist has a pop-up exhibit — his first — opening Friday, April 1, at the Santa Fe Collective. He recently started a website, www.cruzsalazar.net, and has two books out: a hardcover monograph called Dedicated to the Word and Two Jumps to the Midnight Sun, a paperback of his poetry and drawings. Not bad for being a sixteen-year-old. “To have a pop-up seems like a natural extension to feed the momentum, because he’s seemingly unstoppable at the moment,” said independent art consultant Ben Lincoln, who was hired by Salazar’s family to help promote the young artist’s work. “It seems like the right time to let the rest of the world begin to see these things.”
Salazar comes from a family with connections to art and poetry. He’s the grandson of Beat- era poet Gregory Corso and nephew of Tasha Ostrander, an installation artist and photographer. It is Ostrander’s imprint CA- OS Projects that publishes Salazar’s books. “It was a wonderful project for me because there was so much of it,” Ostrander told Pasatiempo. “I had this stack of imagery to work with.”
Salazar is a prolific artist. He began drawing with India ink in 2014, at the beginning of the school year. After school, he works in a studio he shares with his older sister Leda, a collage artist, and remains there for hours. “They work together quite a bit and are kind of inseparable,” Ostrander said. “They do very different kinds of work, but they support each other. Leda has a degree in studio arts, and so she has been kind of a guide for Cruz.”
While Salazar has the support of his family, his artworks stand on their own as dynamic, thoughtful, and thought-provoking compositions. He has what seems like a natural talent and is self-taught. “I’ve never taken art classes or participated in poetry readings and slams,” Salazar told Pasatiempo. He began making figurative imagery of fantastic but simply rendered creatures and combined them with violent drips and splashes of ink. His early works from 2014 are reminiscent of Ralph Steadman, who is best known for his illustrations in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 for author Hunter S. Thompson. Steadman is one of a few artists in whom Salazar found direct inspiration. “He was a cartoonist during the Vietnam War and he worked with ink,” Salazar said. “I watched the movie Fear and
Loathing in Las Vegas and that’s when I first started.” Over time, Salazar began moving toward a more pure form of abstraction, yet his work has remained figurative to a degree. Certain motifs reappear with frequency, notably the “Wanderers,” ink splotches that look organic and alive. Salazar treats them as soul-like characters, with billowing tails and snaking tendrils that seem to propel them along as they swirl about one another like Japanese fighting fish or, perhaps more aptly, like spermatozoa. Salazar introduces a conceptual component into his work with the
Wanderers, whom he has drawn many times. They are always searching, always seeking. “They’re finding where they have to be,” he said. “They are like souls and thoughts, and I think they manifest into something larger if they can reach it. I think some of my poetry refers to these themes.”
He writes his poems at school when not engaged in studies and works on his art in the evenings in a dedicated practice. “Since he was a kid he was always extremely organized,” Ostrander said. “Everything is very orderly and his time — his focus — is very much like that, too.” While his poetry often starts with a preponderance of rhyming, as in “Pandora” — “Her name was Pandora with a powerful aura” — they settle into more philosophical narrations as they progress: “And at the bottom of the box and with all the evil in the world/Ascended a spirit by the name of Hope.”
Salazar also did a series of stencil drawings, reminiscent of street art, before experimenting with various other means of applying and manipulating ink. For the Wanderers, for instance, he uses his breath to make the fine tendrils that branch out from the main body of the abstract figures.
Color is something Salazar uses sparingly in his two- dimensional works, usually in minimalist compositions, such as his The Creature of
Green from 2014. “It’s much different using color,” he said. “It suggests something different. But I like using black because it’s so much more emotional and so much more expressive.”
Language, or the appearance of language, is another theme he explores, and he includes his own brand of hieroglyphics in some works, though the glyphs have no literal meaning. “Terence McKenna talks about visible syntax,” he said. “That’s where I got the idea.” McKenna was an ethnobotanist and mystic who advocated the use of psychotropic substances in exploring altered states of consciousness. “The language embedded in the drawings doesn’t say anything, but it’s a symbolic philosophy that runs through the work,” Ostrander said.
Salazar’s most recent works are sparing in their use of line but rendered with precision in arrangements that look architectural, such as in his drawing The Matriarch’s Room. His sense of composition also stands out from one body of work to the next. Even his most spontaneous, abstract drawings have balance and harmony. He seems also to have a good intuition of when to stop and, consequently, his drawings are rarely busy. Instead, they are economical, retaining a cohesiveness despite sometimes being composed of hundreds of separate little marks. “Cruz’s work is just really fun,” said Ostrander, “because it is a very uncensored, uninfluenced vision.”
Cruz Salazar: The Creature of Green, 2014, ink on watercolor paper; above, The Matriarch’s Room, 2016, India ink on watercolor paper; opposite, Three Hole Point, 2015, India ink on watercolor paper
The Spiral Wanderer, 2014, India ink on watercolor paper