Honest Introspection

Sacramento artist creates work of chaos and careful detail

By Daniel Barnes
April 2019

As far as local artist Salvatore Victor is concerned, artistic success comes from getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

“For most people, making art can be difficult, because there’s a lot of emotional baggage there,” says the Tampa-born artist who has lived in Sacramento for nearly 30 years. 

Victor tries to apply the discipline he learned while studying martial arts as a youth to his artistic process. “I always sit with it, be with it, understand it, learn from it, keep moving, and that comes out in the work,” he says.

His drawings are stark yet intricate, a mix of chaos and careful detail, and they are mostly created in charcoal shades of grey and black.

Honest introspection is a key facet of Victor’s work. To that end, he has produced nearly 1,000 self-portraits over the years. “Part of this is being able to sit and be uncomfortable,” he says. “If you can’t stand being uncomfortable, you’re not going to go anywhere.”

Victor’s journey started in central Florida, where he played sports and copied cartoon characters as a child. “I wound up being that kid that could draw a little bit,” he says. 

After studying business at Florida State University, Victor enrolled in art school in Sarasota, Fla. That’s where he met professor and artist Joe Traina, a major influence on his work, alongside old masters ranging from da Vinci to Magritte to Dali to Wyeth.

After spending his early years in Florida, Victor moved to California in 1990, continuing to produce his art while working in local restaurants. He inherited some money after his parents passed away in 1998 and began to pursue his art full time, while augmenting his income by taking teaching gigs at local charter schools and arts centers. “It forced me to understand my own process,” he says about teaching. “I had to verbalize that process.”

It was around that time that Victor began to embrace charcoal, a medium he never worked in during his art school studies. “I was always afraid of charcoal because it’s a tough medium when you first start out,” he says. “Then it clicked for me, and now I can do anything with it.” 

Victor prefers the intimate and tactile feel of drawing with charcoal. “I’m all about seeing, but seeing with the idea of feeling, hearing, smelling—and I like my hands on the paper,” he says.

“You never really master it, but once you move through it and you’re present to what you’re doing, the drawing essentially draws itself.”

An extremely prolific artist, Victor tends to work on large series and bodies of work, including his extensive collection of self-portraits. A huge Rembrandt fan, Victor once tested himself by creating 50 self-portraits in 50 days. “It’s a little game I play, chasing Rembrandt,” he says. “It’s also an opportunity for me to check in, to see where I’m at.”

He recently finished a series of nearly 200 drawings of rabbits, a project that took him almost three years to complete. “When I put them all together, they’re all sort of self-evaluating,” he says. “When you really start to look, and you learn to really see, your observation opens up a whole new world.”

Victor frequently compares the act of creating art to a conversation—a discussion not with a person but with the drawing, with the subject and with himself. “When I’m doing the drawings, the code is telling me what to do, and if I’m present to the work then it will show up on the paper. As soon as you break that relationship, you’re done.”

Victor has participated in group shows for decades, held solo exhibits and shown his work in Boston, but his goal is to have national recognition within the next five years. “I’m not sure of the route, but that’s one of my goals.” 

To learn more about Victor, go to salvatorevictor.com.

Daniel Barnes can be reached at danielebarnes@hotmail.com.

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