It was a sunny afternoon in August in Pemberton, British Columbia, Canada, 2008. I was at a music festival with a slew of my friends.
We wanted to go see Coldplay. They had just released Viva La Vida.
It was there, amidst thousands of people in the middle of the afternoon that my partner and I were viciously assaulted by eight men.
If I allow myself – and I rarely do – I can go back to that moment. I recall standing in shock and disbelief before turning to my partner and saying ‘Jack, I have no teeth!’ as blood streamed from my mouth.
Soon after I recall being thrown to the floor by a police officer who attacked me from behind. He aggressively put me in handcuffs while pushing my face hard into the dirt and grass.
My partner was in the same situation. The eight guys ran off, (that’s some piss-pour police work), as he mouthed to me the words ‘it’s okay’.
Later, it would be him who would come to the holding cell in the makeshift police tent and uncuff me and take me to the infirmary tent.
The attack brought us together
My partner and I have now been together for 10 years, I think that event bonded us forever.
Trauma may bring people closer together, but it can also focus a person. It can give you resolve, drive, and conviction. I think it depends on how these events are channelled. They can either break us, or be the sort of character defining – and even life defining – moments we carry with us forever.
Soon after the incident, I moved to London to do a Masters degree in Painting at Chelsea College of Art.
I’ve lived in England since. I’ve just released my first artist monograph, entitled TEN. It coincides with a 10-year survey exhibition of my work at the Canadian High Commission in London’s Trafalgar Square.
I often credit that moment in Pemberton with actually ‘giving’ me my career. An early defining piece, (included in the exhibition) entitled ‘Bloody Faggot’ is a black-on-black self-portrait without my teeth.
From broken boys to powerful men
The exhibition is my personal autobiography, quite literally a decade of my life in paintings. But, on the other hand, it tells a story of personal triumph. A tale of positivity and pride from negativity and hatred.
The most recent painting included is entitled ‘Afterlife / Osiris’. It depicts a black man with his hand over his eye, reimagined as Osiris, the Egyptian god of the afterlife. A single penetrating eye looks directly at the viewer.
The curator of the exhibition, David Liss of the Canadian Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto, disagreed with me when I said my work took a nihilistic perspective toward humanity. He referred to this particular piece as a complete breakthrough.
He sees a sense of positivity, spirituality, and healing replacing the emotions in earlier paintings. Broken, wounded, vulnerable boys had given way to resolute, powerful men.
I think for me, the 10-year process is like the Orobouros, the snake who eats his own tail. Ideas have come full circle, culminating in a process of disclosure, catharsis, healing, and progress.
My forthcoming show, entitled A Room With a View of the Ocean, will open in May in Croatia. It looks toward the future like a horizon, leaving behind the darkness forever, heading toward that sunset and those silver clouds. No turning back.
Andrew Salgado currently has an exhibition, TEN, running until 28 February at Canada House in Trafalgar Square, London. Find out more about the exhibition and Andrew Salgado here.