Rafael Francisco Salas – Summer’s End

As fall semester begins, take a moment to reflect on Summer’s End, an exhibition of achingly beautiful work by Rafael Francisco Salas. The exhibition primarily features oil paintings of indistinct rural landscapes and a county fair in “a metaphorical change of season. It is an oblique atmospheric meditation on political and social divides. The landscape emerges as an emotional rather than a literal one. The county fair at summer’s end is a place of reckoning, full of innocence, and innocence lost.” 

From left to right: County Fair #3 (Calf), County Fair #1 (Princess), County Fair #2 (Shovel), 2021. Oil on canvas.

Salas’ paintings feature luminous backgrounds, their inner glow contrasting with a persistent shadow that creeps in at the corners of the canvases. He doesn’t shy away from saturated, earthy colors, but, paired with muted grays, the overall effect is a sense of disillusioned nostalgia.

2021 Landscape, 2021. Oil on canvas.

Summer’s End layers the hopefulness of the ideal, the clarity of recollection, and the crumbling of memory. Sharply rendered figures and sparkling fireworks are placed atop hazy rural landscapes, bleeding into but distant from their surroundings. Focal points dissociate into abstract strokes of jeweled color, and backgrounds fade into the feeling of a landscape, rather than a physical location.

In addition to large oil paintings, Summer’s End includes a collection of process sketches. This body of delicate, thoughtful works contextualize the ideas that culminated in each painting. It’s interesting to see how a change in medium affects the perception of each subject, with small studies in ink, acrylic, and collaged paper a quietly different treatment than the large oil paintings.

Process work.

Salas is a professor of art at Ripon College, where he also serves as chair of the department of Art and Art History, and has also been appointed to the Wisconsin Arts Board. His work has been displayed in New York City, San Diego, and Boston. He’s also shown work extensively in the Midwest, including in the Neville Public Museum, the Museum of Wisconsin Art, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, and the Frank Juarez Gallery. His work is represented by Portrait Society Gallery in Milwaukee. Salas has also worked as an arts writer for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Newcity Art Chicago, The Isthmus Magazine and Urban Milwaukee.

Rockets #1 and Rockets #2, 2022. Oil on canvas.

Summer’s End opened on August 29 and can be viewed in the Baer Gallery through September 22. A reception will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, September 8. The gallery is open to the campus and the community.

County Fair #3 (Calf), 2022. Oil on canvas.

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