Expanding and exploring issues of identity in her ongoing series of paintings about young women, Tammy Salzl certainly lives the way she paints. Feeling somewhat distant from the arts community, in both social and physical separation, and feeling estranged in the suburban neighborhood life from where she raises a young family, Salzl straddles both these seemingly opposite worlds in a constant state of discomfort—but charges ahead with an ingrained sense of self-persistence.
“I was pretty disillusioned after school,” she says (Salzl graduated from the University of Alberta in 1996, after first completing three years at ACAD). “I was never one of those star students that churned out work that looked like their professors, and it took me years until I was confident of what I wanted to paint.”
Seeing herself as the opposite of Eric Fischl, the American painter who grew up in the comforts of Long Island’s suburbs and later discovered the seedy underbelly of city life, Salzl was herself raised in the inner city, only coming to experience suburban life when she became an adult.
Her newest show, Acts of Devotion, reveals a turning point in her young career. Always exploring the notions of nature vs nurture, and exploring that there is more than just a binary to how we shape ourselves, Salzl frames her latest series within historical and religious tropes—images that were traditionally used as a moral guide.
“I think we live with a lot of stereotypes and derogatives and stigmatism, but I don’t think it’s that simple,” she says. “You can’t just slot it in either/or.”
Salzl’s works are progressing further from the personal and contemplative nature of how we relate to one another into exploring the social context of power relations.
“There’s a cost of artifice to keep up the façade of femininity,” she says contemplatively. “There is always a collision between ‘beautiful’ and ‘confrontational’ in the portrayal of women, and there is a price we pay for the mask we wear.”
Described as an aggressive painter who revels in the physical sensation of painting itself, Salzl’s background in sculpture reveals itself as fleshy bodies and limbs, giving the appearance that the models were sculpted, rather than painted with the viscosity of oil.
Her newer paintings situate modern-day women in iconoclastic environments, taking traditional poses and daily acts of ritual and updating them to today’s fashion and aesthetic, and in so doing reconfiguring the idolatry of representing women.
Working from real life individuals that she photographs in various states, Salzl confesses, “I always tell my models that the painting isn’t about them, that they’re just ‘the models,’ but in truth a bit of their person or history always works its way into the painting.”
As a full-time mother and a full-time artist, and as an individual attempting to see the world in relation with everything around her, she responds, “I’m just trying to reflect back and unravel something, a personal resonance, a look, a gesture, that maybe someone else can relate to. I am trying to give expression to my own experience.”
First published in Vue Weekly, July 25 - 31, 2007. Print and Online.