Written by Alexander Greco
June 13, 2020
From São Paulo, Brazil, Salua Saleh is an expressionist painter whose paintings depict dreams, emotions and everyday life with a myriad of colorful forms. Though our conversation was unfortunately impaired somewhat by our language barrier, Salua and I talked at length about her artwork, as well as the inspirations and stories behind much of her art. Carrying the torch of the expressionist movement of modern art, Salua reimagines the human figure and identity, and projects the colors and shapes of dreams onto the world around us. Through her artwork, Salua provides us with waking windows into landscapes of the mind, body and soul.
Salua is from São Paulo, Brazil, though she and her art have traveled across the world. Having been born in Brazil, she was exposed to a new generation of Brazilian artwork in Ribeirão Preto. After receiving her degree from the University of Ribeirão Preto, Salua moved to Italy, where she took painting courses and further developed her expressionist style, as well as London. Through her life and her travels, Salua’s work proliferated into a number of countries, including Britain, the United States, Lebanon, Greece and Brazil.
Salua’s style is primarily expressionism, though her artwork also has influences from the impressionists and the abstract movement, with similarities also to the fauvist movement. Her primary influences were Matisse, Klimt, Modigliani and Frida Kahlo, and these influences are quite prominent in her strong use of color and contrast, her alteration of form in landscapes and cityscapes and the expressions of her paintings’ subjects.
Salua’s paintings feature a wide range of settings and subjects. We see many paintings of figures, often nude figures, as well as portraits of people. Other paintings showcase a landscape or cityscape, and some are still life paintings, while others are much more abstract pieces that have ascended far enough from tangible, waking reality that they become difficult to readily describe.
In many of Salua’s figure paintings, portraits and nudes, we see the influence of artists like Modigliani and Klimt, as well as some of Matisse’s style.
With paintings like “As Tres Mulheres” and “As Quatro Mulheres”, there is certainly an influence of Modigliani in the reimagination of the subjects faces and expressions, as well as in nude paintings like “I Due”. Where Modigliani played with the shape of the nude form, as well as with the shape and proportion of expressions of individuals, Salua likewise transforms her subjects into new visions of an otherworldly humanity. In “I Due” and others, we can also see an influence from Klimt and the emotional dynamic of many of his nudes.
However, Salua also incorporates the fauvist style of Matisse into much of her work, including her figures and nudes. With pieces like Salua’s portrait of David Bowie, or “Blindness”, we see both the transformation of figure and form from Modigliani, as well as a vivid use of vibrant colors, replacing our normal expectation of colors with an almost otherworldly color scheme.
With the David Bowie portrait, the typical skin tones and shading are enhanced and transformed with yellows, greens, whites and blue greys for lighter tones, and reds, oranges and browns for darker tones. His hair is a blooming explosion of blues, yellows, reds, greens, turquoises, ruddy red-violets, sky-blues and sea-greens. All of this pops out even more with the dark contrast of the background, ranging from darker versions of the sea greens to the red violets of his hair, in addition to the contrasting dark and light blue on his clothing.
With “O Negro”, one of Salua’s first pieces, there is a very strong resemblance to Matisse’s portrait work, particularly pieces like “Green Stripe” and “Woman With a Hat”. Regular skin topes are replaced with reds, blues and oranges, while the white’s of the subject’s eyes are made green, and his hair mixed with some orange. His lips are painted a pale dark orange, and much of his skin is highlighted with dark-pale greys, tans and peach-tones
With paintings like “Hoje è Dia de Festa”, Salua incorporates even stronger elements of abstraction and fauvism into her artwork. The figures in this painting are practically mosaics of colors, their forms transformed into simpler renditions, and their expressions are entirely obscured in the colors comprising their bodies. The landscape surrounding these figures is similarly comprised of this colorful mosaic, both land and sky. In the distant background, there is a city made of pale blue and pink tones.
Salua’s abstract pieces, while they resemble in some ways the fauvists and expressionists, for me are more reminiscent of some pieces from Pollock, as well the orphists and the wilder side of abstract expressionism.
With paintings like “Caminhos” and “Metamorfose”, Salua uses similar color schemes as Kandinsky in many of his paintings, but also uses the geometric designs found in some of Kandinsky’s work, as well as many of the paintings made by the orphists. There is a chaotic explosion of vibrant colors, at times complementing each other and at times contrasting, as well as swirls and circles, paths of colors tracing across a wild landscape of color.
With other paintings like “Abstracões” and “Conexões”, we still see the Kandinsky-esque color schemes and the orphist geometry, but there is a chaos that is only really comparable to Pollock’s pieces. Salua maintains something of a semblance of rational design in the background layer of the painting, but the upper layers are storms of colors fervently blooming and bursting off the canvas.
Many other pieces are far more tame than this, such as “Anni 70”, “A Danca das Cores” or “Passagens Secretas”, though these pieces still employ vivid colors and energetic movements across the canvas. Others like “Tropicalismo” and “Todos os Olhos da Floresta Encantada” employ geometric patterns very unique to many of Salua’s other pieces. Pieces like “Tropicalismo” are almost landscape like, with many similarities to the landscapes and cityscapes Salua has created.
Salua’s cityscapes are often quite like puzzle pieces in various shapes and sizes and of various colors fit together. The colors she uses for her buildings create a fascinating arrangement of emotion across hills, mountains and other landscapes, and the composition of the shapes and forms of buildings in these cityscapes likewise suggest a sort of geometry of emotion.
One of my favorite cityscapes of hers, “San Lorenzo Bellizzi” feels truly like a representation of a city from a dream, with buildings of odd proportions stacked on top of each other, with roads and paths stretched across the city architecture, curving and wandering in and out of the blocks. It becomes difficult to distinguish wall from rooftop from road from doorway, and the proportions and shapes of each section of the painting cause the viewer’s brain to scramble trying to understand what it is seeing.
Another quite dreamlike city painting, “Sogno Lùcido”, we see buildings through a doorway or window frame at night. These buildings are oddly proportioned and shaped, giving them a surreal aesthetic, and the door frame or window we are looking through is surrounded with designs quite similar to the dream-like textures and fabric designs created by Klimt. The night sky in the background, in tandem with the strange architecture of the buildings and the cool colors filling much of the center of the painting, give an almost eerie or uncanny feeling to them—a feeling that can only be found in the stranger hours of night, in dreams, or captured in a painting such as this.
With Salua’s natural landscapes, as well as in her still life paintings, there is a more impressionist style similar to much of Monet’s work, as well as the post-impressionist style made famous by Van Gogh. Paintings such as “Paisagem Livre”, there is a very pronounced impressionist/post-impressionist style, with much of the emotion of the piece shown through the movement of the brushstrokes and slight derivations of natural colors. Still, other pieces like “Caos Calmo” still lean more heavily toward an expressionist style.
In other landscape paintings, such as “Caminho Ìntimo”, which may be one of my favorite pieces by Salua, Salua blends the styles of post-impressionism and expressionism into an almost Wonderland-like dream-world of paths of vibrant colors walled on both sides by swirling patterns of flower-like designs. This painting, as with many of Salua’s paintings, is like something from colorful, beautiful dream—a landscape that possibly could only be conceived in the mind of an artist.
Salua spoke with me about how this dream-like quality of her art comes from one of her primary inspirations: her own dreams. This inspiration is quite evident in Salua’s surreal depictions of people, still life images and landscapes. There is an element of the unconscious in Salua’s work, an element of uncanny otherworldliness to her work, that can be quite difficult to capture in words, but that Salua has quite adeptly captured in paintings.
Another inspiration for Salua’s work are everyday events and settings, or even passersby in towns and cities, that many of us may take for granted, but Salua finds much beauty in. Still, other inspirations come from Salua’s own emotions, and her artwork is an expression of these feelings. At times, her artwork is an expression of inner turmoil, such as in her piece, “Solitudine”, which Salua told me is a painting of her sitting at night, staring out a window, smoking a cigarette, and dealing with personal suffering.
Despite the unique beauty of Salua’s paintings, she spoke with me about how she used to destroy some of her works of art. She often didn’t feel they were good enough, and her inner critic railed at her until she gave in and got rid of these pieces. Still, Salua felt much regret about destroying her work, and received advice from a friend that many artists, writers, musicians and other creative types might find invaluable. It is not your place to judge your own work, it is your place only to create it, and let others see what you have made for their own consideration.
It is difficult for so many of us to silence our own inner critics. As helpful as they may be—as useful as it can be to have that voice always telling you to do better and to try harder—these inner critics may also tear us down at moments we need to be built up. These acts of destruction, or other similar acts of self-inflicted emotional violence, may seem appropriate in the moment, but they cannot be the guiding force of our creativity. We must strive to follow the voices telling us, “Yes! This is good”, and “Carry on, keep creating, keep building what you have”.
It has been a delight getting to talk with Salua about her artwork, as much as it has been a pleasure going through her art and pouring over every detail of her work. It is quite an achievement for an artist to be able to capture such subtle and nuanced emotions as Salua captures with her expressionist style, as well as the uncanny quality of dream-like visions in art, and both are quite a joy to see. If you enjoyed Salua’s art and want to see more, you can find her on Instagram @saluasaleh_artgallery. Please give her artwork a deeper look, and if you enjoy what she’s made, follow her, and comment or send her a message to let her know!