Selfies by Jeff Salon

| Jay Bautista
A theme very close to his heart since he started holding up his brushes, Jeff Salon takes up the cause of children not more than fifteen years old, comprising more than forty percent of our population, those who have been either neglected at home, sexually abused, victims of armed conflict, deeply involved in gangs in schools. Focusing on their welfare, done in his unique realist hues, these sordid portraits comprise Salon’s first solo exhibition whimsically entitled Nice and Naughty.

Hazard Ground, 2013. Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 48 inches.
Evoking obvious intensity, everyone knows the story behind Hazard Ground however we seem too hard to admit. Unable to flee the countryside marred by war, the young boy is forced by circumstance to mature and be actively involved in the propagation of its futility of violence. Depending on its root causes, be it political, racial or religious, hatred has already gone deep through generations – his grandfather died for it, his father invited him to it, then the boy, out of his familial obligation takes up the cudgels – all in the name of payback revenge. Grim as grime, Salon whose fondness for texture, purposely riddled the canvas by bullets unable to control the anguish and despair that has befallen the once innocent boy. Signifying his own life’s loss, as the prime of his youth is being stolen from him, a glaring infra-red is aimed at him with his generation — as the targeted victims like the previous generation before them. Close to 50,000 children are displaced in armed conflict every year, one reason why Salon has also advocated the total banning of firearms as toys. No one can tell the difference. However Salon insists that hope still looms as a subliminal peace sign hovers emphatically on the picture.

Chasing Boundaries, 2103. Oil on Canvas, 79 x 72 inches.

Fourth among a brood of seven, Salon had public school teachers for his parents. Thus stressing in them the value for hard work and education, however Salon’s hometown is too small for the competitive spirit in him. Growing up in Calabanga, Camarines Sur, a daily ritual for Salon happens every late afternoon. Like clockwork, he would go up their rusty roof and stare at the big sky and patiently wait for the sun to set. Considering more like God affirming His signature at the end of the day He has created, Salon is so amazed as that there was never the same sunset ever since. Even astronomers have scientifically studied this phenomenon time and again. Not until the stars are in full bloom and out for their nightly performance will Salon come down for supper.

Chasing Boundaries is a product of this contemplative daily routine during dusk. Probably the most personal piece in this collection as Salon always had big bold dreams of making it in the city. Always the optimist, life’s aspirations come in the form of this hopeful child whose hands clasp in anticipation. This autobiographical piece captured many of his wishes in the list of life worth depicting: the need for speed in being a motocross rider, adventurer who perennially roams around town either heading by the beach after class or to visit an old artist and listens to his philosophy in life and art. 
Notice his fondness for boats be it the old galleon ship or the simple paper one, Salon longs to see other worlds that someday he knows he will conquer. Related to this longing for travel are the constant birds in flight etched as textures on his paint’s surface. Aesthetically this graphic handle represents his quest for freedom for his art and for his country. Part of his creative tableaus are his shooting or falling stars that gently remind him of his dreams and how far he has gone from that roof while looking up to them.
Children are anything but children these days and Salon has been visual in narrating their dismal tales some kept stubbornly silent to themselves. One of Salon’s pet peeve is someone who oppresses fellows even at their young age. Untamed reports of a disturbed kid who secretly bullies other kids. This bully will eventually will be the next thug to become a menace to the society. In showing his defiance, this bullied kid, with all the hurt being inflicted in him words and in his ripening body, gathers strength to lash out his tongue out claiming this as his own small victory. Translation: you may have hurt me but my spirit is intact. Featured turning his back against the viewer, Salon traces this bully’s values may have been corrupted by the current context of his society – the videos he imbibed in himself, the save-the-earth films his father watches in the only television at home. Salon even believes that unconsciously the parents become the bully’s first bullies as they themselves call him names at home or display the attitude of the very physical violence that hurt them to hurt others. Coating it as a sign of love, unknown to parents tolerating this kind of dysfunctional behavior in them would be more harmful in the future. Sometimes reciprocating their negligence in the guise for just being playful or “because they are kids, let them be.”

Little Swan, 2013. Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 24 x 16 inches.

Little Swan seeks to capture a young girl’s imagination beyond her Barbie dolls and teen celebrity idols. As one’s childhood is such a short season, it is fleeting enough for a girl without ambitions. Like a woman without children, could it be the promise of contemporary of the internet or some future perfection in the digital games suppress it? 

Salon is old school, believing in the power of painting as a loaded two-dimensional piece being bound for the wall. Not only for their practicality, accessibility and maximizing space, its single view focus still works, drawing up attention that remains effective and habitual no matter how fast the modern times can be. A master in composition, a monochrome rendition of the characters that make up his image, he emphatically draws up the main selfie of the child in sharp and not stark in likeness. Rendering it in layered yet playful appearance.  
Similar to the one in Beyond Vision, where the bigger profile covers his face with his hands, signaling the viewer that we should not tolerate wrong doings by adults. Just because children are small and naïve doesn’t mean they are not smarter than us.
Television has become the post modern baby sitter as Nice and Naughty series deals with the influences like media and how there is a dire need for alternative education that would help children adapt to change. It would seem biological that no child is capable of speech until he has heard of other human beings speak, or even formed a language without the help of communication from his family. Thus these three paintings address how children’s perception is being influenced by current practice by music, family dynamics and current surroundings. It was revealed in a study that watching television for children there is no delineation from the main shows and the advertisements in between them. Everything is one long uninterrupted viewing. The regular noontime show could be extended with a laundry soap commercial. Hence a ten-year old may realize that laundry is vital component for say, national development, so are the other fast food chains, loaning in banks, and even Kris Aquino’s shampoo.

Beyond Vision, 2013. Oil and Acrylic on Canvas, 60 x 36 inches.

Ironically, seeing the depth of these portrayals, Salon hopes that by viewing his works one is reminded of one’s happy childhood whenever they may be. That these children are not our children as Kahlil Gibran has said, “but of life’s constant longing for itself.” 

Nice and Naughty is Jeff Salon’s ongoing first solo exhibition as part of the tenth anniversary celebration of Nineveh Artspace in Sta. Cruz, Laguna.