Sal Salandra is a queer artist based in East Hampton, NY, transplanted from the West Village. Sal works in the medium of thread painting, a form of embroidery which involves weaving long and short stitches through a canvas.
He has spent fifty-five years as a hairdresser, and without a formal art education, is self-taught at his craft.
Sal’s work explores (but is not limited to) themes of queer sexuality, BDSM eroticism, and Catholicism. Once in school to be a priest, Sal spent many years repressing his sexuality.
Sal eventually began to embrace his sexual thoughts in harmony with Catholicism. Sal claims that “The Catholic Church is one of the Largest BDSM groups in the world” and that the spirit of god helps inform his art.
Sal’s thread paintings often depict slews of men engaging in kinky sex, displaying dominant and submissive dynamics. Although his work is raunchy and risque, the bright colors, soft textures, and precise detail make it more cozy than jarring.
Sal took some time away from his craft to chat with us. Find the conversation along with more images of his art after the jump!
Sal, in your bio, you say, “I used to think, ‘what a sick mind I have,’ but now I believe if God didn’t want me to have these thoughts, then why would he put them in my head? I listen to God, he talks to me while I work, he tells me what color to use, what shape of the body to use.” When did you start embracing these thoughts instead of suppressing them? Was there any trigger that led to your transformation of thought?
I do have these thoughts and now do not believe this makes God unhappy. Believing in God, I talk to him and say, “What do you think of this color?” as I sew. “What do you think?” And I paint this into the work.
I came out at twenty-six and I remember being in church, looking for answers. All they talked about was money. I thought, “I’m talking in my mind, straight to God. He will tell me what to do.” He did, and it changed my thinking.
Tell us about your religious education.
I once went to a priest, because he told me sex was a sin. I had a wet dream and went running to him. He made me kneel in front of him and tell him the dream. I’m sure he went to his room and released His Tension after I left.
Has being a hairdresser informed your art in any way?
Hairdressing taught me to respect my clients. That’s why I like to sketch paintings for a client and then paint them; I want my paintings to make people feel good.
Can you talk about what it’s like to work with your hands?
Working with my hands and being dyslexic, it’s a way I’m able to express myself. I did teach myself that sitting still and just being is Doing Something.
How much time do you spend thread painting in an average day?
10 to 12 hours a day.
What about in one sitting? Do you take a lot of breaks?
I start at seven in the morning. I can sew for two hours, then get up and walk to the deck. I need to respond on Instagram for about fifteen minutes, then go back and sew, then walk up and down the street, take in the beauty God sent us, then go back and sew.
I do take breaks so my hands don’t cramp. When I get a painting in my head, I’m obsessed with getting it done. I sew on the couch, the deck, at the dining table, especially with large paintings. I sketch them on the table or my desk and then stretch the paintings on the washing machine.
Sal’s work will be on view as part of the Tom of Finland Foundation Art and Culture Festival this Saturday, December 12.
Preview some of Sal’s favorite pieces below. Click images to enlarge.
Here are some details of the work:
Visit Sal’s website here to inquire about purchasing these works.