Artist Michael Salter grinds culture into ‘Gristle Sausage’

In his newest exhibit, Gristle Sausage, associate professor of digital arts Michael A. Salter plays the role of a meat grinder: He grinds graphics and memes and shapes them into a “all- you-can-eat visual buffet.”

The billboard-sized installation offers several framed graphics of colorful, pixelated patterns, blurry portraits, cartoon faces, pharmaceutical drugs, and more. The societal mosaic also features one-of-a-kind, minimal, kitschy knick-knack sculptures installed on the opposite wall.

Gristle Sausage is featured as part of Lump Gallery’s ongoing twentieth-season anniversary celebration, called Lumpxx, for which artists from the prior nineteen seasons were invited back to exhibit. The exhibit was scheduled for a March 4-26 run at the gallery in Raleigh, North Carolina.

A self-proclaimed "obsessive observer," Salter regularly culls through mass media and corporate branding to find inspiration for his work. His art bridges all media including digital drawing, sculpture, logotypes, animation, and signage. Absorbing mass media and turning it into an ode to modern overindulgence through this exhibit, he says, is kind of like making sausage.

Gristle Sausage exhibit by Michael Salter
Above: Gristle Sausage installation, 2016, Lump Gallery, Michael A. Salter. All images courtesy Michael Salter.

“I pull all the parts and pieces, remnants and scraps from the visual culture and then I put them together into a delectable sausage,” he says. “The parts on their own are inedible, but when processed, they can be delicious.”

Salter is a member of Team Lump, a collective of artists who have supported and operated the space. Gallery owner and co-founder Bill Thelen says Salter was quintessential to the gallery’s early identity.

“He definitely helped define an aesthetic where we try to work against the expected and the familiar,” says Thelen.

What exactly is the Lump aesthetic?

Salter says simply, “The aesthetic is that there is no aesthetic. Bill Thelen’s vision taught me to constantly challenge my understanding of what art is, what art can be, and the importance of constantly questioning those cultural understandings.”

But he adds that the Lump aesthetic might be best described as “an estate sale that has nothing left to sell, a mall kiosk, and a public restroom, situated in a formally beautiful space with a professional tone.”

Salter, a North Carolina native and an MFA graduate in studio art from University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, first offered help to the gallery about two decades ago.

This is Salter’s fifth solo exhibition at Lump.

Above: Bric-a-brac-tastic, Michael Salter

“It has been a strange and interesting pleasure to have such a long relationship with a particular gallery,” says Salter. “My respect for Bill and the Lump has never wavered or waned. I am proud to exhibit my work and prolong my discourse about visual culture in such a formidable space.”

Lump, known for exhibiting emerging, midcareer, and underappreciated artists, is “an artist-run space that does not represent artists and conducts itself without commercial comprise,” according to its website.

Salter hopes Gristle Sausage represents another installation of Lump’s oeuvre; the venue has invariably emphasized sharing original artists’ ideas.

“Lump has, for a lifetime, invested in championing work that was more about ideas than commerce,” he says. “I hope Gristle does just that. I hope it exists based on ideas about visual culture, commerce,and capitalism and my ever-changing nuanced issues as a player in those games.”

Salter’s artist statement for Gristle Sausage reads:

“Hyperconnectivity and globalization offers us an all-you-can-eat visual buffet. I seek those sweet or salty pleasure responses that provide the awe and terror of my visuality.  Scraping bits, pieces, and parts from the fringes of visual culture as my ingredients; I grind the parts and stuff them into a resolution, into a kind of gristle sausage.  Pharmaceutical drugs, blurry portraits, psychedelia and goofy faces are some of the drawings that comprise a giant billboard sized installation along with a bric-a-brac kitsch bauble sculpture made of smaller bric-a-brac kitsch bauble sculptures in Gristle Sausage.”

Salter has previously exhibited solo installations at Charles de Jonghe gallery in Brussels, Belgium; Rice University Art Gallery in Houston, Texas; Jeff Bailey Gallery in New York City; The University of Texas in Arlington; and Black Market Gallery in Los Angeles, California.

His work has been featured in Art In America, Best Art NY 2009, Dot Dot Dash, Pictoplasma2, Grab Magazine, Arkitip Magazine, Repellent Magazine, and LoDown Magazine.