Rafael Francisco Salas creates new artwork during sabbatical

Rafael Francisco Salas

During the spring and summer of 2020, Professor of Art Rafael Francisco Salas was on sabbatical, researching rural areas of Wisconsin and Minnesota and translating what he viewed into paintings, drawings and assemblages.

“I traveled roads designated as ‘rustic’ by the Department of Motor Vehicles in Wisconsin to compare the seemingly bucolic nature of these landscapes with what I observed in nearby communities,” he says. “My subsequent artwork related to how rural America can express beautiful, poetic imagery, but also describe disenfranchisement, political resentment and polarization.”

Many of the resulting artworks have been exhibited at the Wright Museum of Art at Beloit College, the Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend and The Warehouse Gallery and Portrait Society Gallery, both in Milwaukee. Salas also will curate an exhibition at MOWA/DTN gallery in Milwaukee in spring 2021.

During his sabbatical, Salas also visited galleries and museums at length before the pandemic closed most of these venues. He also engaged in a continuing practice of art criticism, writing reviews for Newcity Art in Chicago and Urban Milwaukee, as well as contributing to a forthcoming anthology of Wisconsin writers, Hope is the Thing, edited by B.J. Hollar, about finding ways to sustain hope in the midst of the pandemic.

“The lockdown did curtail my travels quite a bit during this time period, however, I pivoted into more production time in the studio and I feel that this was ultimately very fruitful,” Salas says. “I was able to produce a significant body of artwork.”

Salas also had works installed in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum of Wisconsin Art and the Wright Museum of Art.

The research and discoveries he carried out will be useful in the classroom. “I am planning a new 400-level course that I will teach in the fall semester of 2021 titled ‘The Contemporary Landscape.’ In it, I will discuss the potential for allegory and metaphor that the genre of landscape art has traditionally created, but then augment that information with contemporary reflections on landscape and how art can be a vehicle to reflect these ideas,” he says.

Examples of artwork created during his sabbatical can be viewed on his website.