Originally published in magazine.
Souther Salazar’s work exists at the intersection of zines, comic books, and the gallery world with a four-way “GO!” sign at every corner. Embracing teenagers swoop through the air on jet packs, vertebras jut out from the elongated neck of a Song of the South crow, a geometric-headed sasquatch nun reminisces about the best night of its life to a fox without forelimbs and the gleeful driver of a swerving 1950’s milk truck with the rear hatch open strews bottles along the road. In his frenetic genre-busting exhibits, paintings on rectangular slabs of wood function like panels from a comic book; thick layers of collaged cardboard give them the depth of bas-relief and characters from zines reappear as sculptures. “All my life it’s been everything mixed together. I think most kids are that way. They don’t think about what their medium is. If they have Play-Doh out, they work with that. If they have crayons out they work with that, and for me it’s sort of the same feeling. I want it to have that same level of excitement every time I sit down to make something.”
In an interview with Ostrich Ink magazine, Souther said, “Whenever I share my work it’s like I need to sort of present it in the same way in which it was made, which is full of accidents, the screw-ups next to the successes.” His solo exhibits are filled with this charismatic chaos: black electrical tape on the wall creates a path connecting milk crates to sketchbook pages to a radio-esque appliance made of wood, empty picture frames dangle from a nail pounded into the middle of a picture. Drawings on envelopes of junk mail with misspellings of his name hang beside the polished pieces. Souther’s work has appeared in a one-night stand exhibit in a Portland motel and another in which all the art was submitted on sticky notes. “With the shows I realized if someone was going to buy a piece, they were going to take it home and look at it. I used to just tape everything up and when you pull it off the wall it all gets destroyed. I felt like if someone actually wanted that it was a little bit unfair.”
Before migrating south to attend the Pasadena Art Center College of Design, Souther went to high school in Oakdale, self-declared “Cowboy Capital of the World,” deep in the center-most heart of California’s Central Valley. A vast wide-open space full of nothing but more vast wide open spaces, if teenagers wanted to have fun they had to make it themselves. Souther got his start trading hand-made mini-comics for Garbage Pail Kids and cat stickers. “When I first moved there it was very rural. Every time I’d come home I’d be kind of sad, because I’d see all the bulldozers lined up. They tore down the vineyards and put up a housing development called The Vineyards. It’s almost a slap in the face.” When Souther depicts rural life it carries this contrast of magical and dreary: a slouching cowboy rides a giraffe through a sprawling, muted countryside while a man sits cramped, face-to-face with a bare bulb in the attic of a ramshackle house. In another, the fields are fallow, the trees are barren, and a teen, his mouth a line of sad determination, struggles uphill on his bicycle, but the scene around him is fantastic, a crab-frog jumps out of a box held by an extremely tall cat and a kangaroo as big as a house sits in the middle of a pasture. Souther originally aspired to be an architect and worked briefly as an architectural designer. There is a broad spatial quality to his work, the paintings have a geography as real to him as Oakdale or Pasadena, but moreover you can almost picture Souther designing cities or homes for his characters.
The combined effect of Salazar’s art is to create a geography of wonder. Salazar’s work exudes a genuine affection for everything he depicts and a willingness to marvel at the mundane, from spinning tops to staplers. After an encounter with a former tax accountant, turned nationally renowned stapler expert, Salazar was inspired by the purchase of a miniature pen stapler. “The stapler itself is only two inches long with these tiny staples. I looked at it and I wanted to make something with it so bad. So, I made this tiny zine that perfectly uses these small staples. It’s called Tony’s Quarter and it came with a free quarter and it cost a quarter.”
Salazar’s work, with its seemingly endless energy and menagerie of subject matter, elevates whimsy to an epic scale. With an imagination as fecund as Central Valley soil, each of his painting is a kindhearted prank.