Into the dark 

Meeting an artist on the cusp of an exhibition can be a study in astonishment, hesitation, and exhilaration as they prepare to transport their work, cringing over any potential bump or bruise. Nestled deep in the former glory of the retro-esque art deco building that houses James Saldivar’s 2nd Sight Studio off Fredericksberg Road, the artist readied his work as he shared the experiences that led to his one-person show Transitions, which opened January 14 at Tobin Hill’s newest gallery space, The Villa at Teka Molino.

Saldivar told me that while he began painting in high school about 15 years ago, outside of a short stint in the graffiti business — painting murals for local companies and making “OK money” — he never took it seriously.

Everything changed five years ago, when he was beaten and left for dead by three men with baseball bats and metal pipes on the city’s north side. It was a random act of violence that remains unsolved.

The horrendous event and resulting near-fatal brain injury changed Saldivar’s world forever. He had to learn how to walk, talk, chew, eat, and think again. When doctors quizzed him about elementary mathematical concepts and well-known historic events, his mind failed him. But not everything was lost. When asked, “Who painted the Sistine Chapel?” Saldivar responded right away: “Michelangelo.” He took it as a sign, an indication he was meant for something. “To be an artist,” he said.

For the past five years, Saldivar’s been making a name for himself in the regional arts community. He was named community curator for the Contemporary Art and Literature Organization (CALO) of San Antonio, one of the driving forces behind the annual Una Noche de la Gloria — Contemporary Art in the Cultural Zone, and joined the San Antonio School for Inquiry and Creativity as an art-department faculty

Saldivar works with three visual cues: drips, stripes, and color theory. His paintings have no set compass (they can be hung from any side) and reference the Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art movements of the ’50s and ’60s. Drips leading in from the edges hover over minimal color bands, each morphing into the next. In discussing his work, Saldivar refers back to his relearning period, as well as his growing interest in color theory and vibrant pigments that create “dialogues” on the canvas. He builds up layers of drips and stripes with a carefully chosen palette, intuitively creating compositional rhythms.

The show title Transitions is a reference to Saldivar’s self-discovery and painting style, which has developed over the years, moving from organic abstractions to drips and stripes. As the artist puts it — “A transition of oneself through life … things we can control, things we cannot control, chaos, and finding that balance in between.”

'Transitions' will be on display at The Villa through February 4. Gallery hours are by appointment only (2403 N St. Mary’s, `210` 846-2783), but limited evening hours are planned to accommodate nighttime traffic.

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