Guest post by Linda Edgerton
Geelong artist Steve Salo’s emotive, urban portraits distil feelings of fleeting moments when people pass him in the street. Over the past year these impressions have become the basis of his powerful Passerby series of paintings.
This is Steve’s second solo show at Metropolis Gallery after last year’s near sell-out show Portraits of Artists, which attracted local, national and international interest.
Since his schoolboy days at St Josephs, Steve has been drawing people on the bus and in cafes. Now a Geelong CBD resident, the Passerby series was inspired by the people he observes around town.
“Living in the city has given me a chance to see many different characters. These paintings focus on the moment when a passerby crosses my path and I find something in them I want to paint. It’s not so much the visual memory of the person, but the feeling I get or receive by passing someone that triggers a painting.”
With this series of paintings, Steve has again used a limited palette, but also explored colour and layering. While Portraits of Artists was painted in thick impasto using palette knife and fingers, for Passerby Steve added brushes and used lighter applications of paint in many works.
In the figure painting There She Stood, Steve had a clear impression of the person he was painting and the work came to him easily.
“I’ve translated what I felt from a five second glimpse of a young woman standing at traffic lights during her lunch break. She was a directed person with confidence. The turn of her head in the painting is when something distracted her and she turned to look in the distance, a busy point in time was briefly stopped. With some of these paintings it’s almost like that momentary feeling subconsciously sinks in and later I pull it out and paint from that feeling on autopilot. I’m not planning the colour before I put it down, I’m just pulling colours from the palette from that stored feeling of someone. For this painting I used colours I felt from her, a down to earth girl, who was not at all superficial.”
Man at the Food Store was painted at a time when Steve was experimenting daily with style. It has a broken, almost pixelated look and was painted in many layers.
“A TV antenna playing up was giving me ideas,” explains Steve. He describes the man in the painting as a “frail old guy, with a passiveness about him”. The man was on his own and looked a bit lost as he slowly walked the aisles. “I wanted to depict his frailty and record someone going about the routines of their daily life. There’s no need for facial features, I actually felt a strong need for no features to get the feeling across.”
For a painting such as Man at the Food Store, Steve also taps into his own feelings.
“If I’m having a darker day myself or recalling difficult days, I feel strong empathy for some of the people I see. I know how they feel and can paint that. There’s an aspect of self-portrait to some of these works.”
Passerby Union Street shows “a confident young guy on the go, probably a creative type”. Steve used high key colours and painted it with ease over two days.
Passersby CBD is one of four paintings in the exhibition inspired by visits to Melbourne. It shows daily commuters in a mechanised society riding the escalator.
“The painting tries to capture the feel of passersby collectively, and it’s also influenced by how that work-style feels to me. Some stand with silent minds, others immersed in their screens before entering the office and facing a larger screen all day. Then returning down the escalator at the end of the day, they are immersed in their screens again before riding the train sandwiched between multiple commuters craving to return to a place called home.”
Having his works well-received in the last show gave Steve greater freedom to experiment, “to go deeper down the rabbit hole.” Other than having the broad Passerby theme, on any day Steve painted whatever he felt like painting. In the case of Girl at the Showgrounds, this meant returning to a more traditional style of painting, a realist depiction of the subject very different to all other works in the show.
“When I saw the expression on this girl’s face, I wanted to capture her exact visual image. The emotion was in the face.”
What’s next for Steve?
“I want to continually be painting and to make a living from it. Whether it’s more portraits and figure works, or reinventing my landscape painting, this is what I was born to do. The interaction with the audience to my art helps drive me, even if it’s just one person that it really touches, like yesterday a person came down from Melbourne just to see my art. My ultimate dream is to have my paintings seen in public galleries and to be recognised as making a contribution to Australian art.”
Steve Salo’s Passerby exhibition runs until 21 March 2015 at Metropolis Gallery, 64 Ryrie Street Geelong 3220. Brian Pieper’s On the Street is also showing at Metropolis until the weekend. Both exhibitions are linked to the artists’ particular interests in everyday people and places. Steve’s thirty works can be viewed on the Metropolis Gallery website. And you can find out more on Steve’s website: www.stevesalo.com
• Portraits of Artists by Steve Salo