Sal Salandra moved to East Hampton with his husband 27 years ago from their apartment in Manhattan’s West Village. For 55 years, Sal worked as a hairdresser, “I’ve seen everything – fingerwaves, beehives, bird nests with little hair curl ‘eggs’, the messy ‘just fucked’ look – that one was very popular.”
But it’s Sal’s passion for his favorite pastime, needlepoint, that’s taken center stage. Sal first picked up needlepoint 40 years ago when he was bedridden with the flu. “My mother-in-law sent me a needlepoint kit, and I thought ‘what the hell am I going to do with this?” Sal has been making “thread art paintings” ever since. “I haven’t missed a day in 40 years.” Like many needlepointers Sal started with quaint motifs – portraits of canines and still lifes. Out of 4 decades of needlepointing, It has only been in the past 5 years that Sal started to explore the human body – this is what led to his distinctive sexual scenarios. “I feel sex in America is so feared. I mean, we eat everyday, and have sex every day, so what’s the difference?”
Sal did not receive any formal art education. He says, “I am completely self-taught.” Sal draws inspiration from his life experiences, religion and pornography. Sal’s most recent erotic thread paintings are brightly colored, playful and sweet, but his imagery is explosive and provocative. Sal’s work blends lore from the Catholic Church and sexual subcultures. In the last year Sal has been creating larger works filled with fantastical wet dream type of compositions. Sal fills his canvases with hard bodied figures performing a slew of sexual acts. One fantastic thread painting depicts the devil in a hellscape – angels look down from heaven to see the devil teach a leather daddy “how to to be a good dom.” Though Sal’s figures are engaging in kinky activities, they are rendered as masterfully and tenderly as Jesus and the dead are in Michalangelo’s “The Last Judgement.” Sal also approaches the fetish objects in his work as religious iconography, a can of crisco can symbolize the inevitable, or a ball-gag the restriction of speech.
Sal’s most recent erotic thread paintings are brightly colored, playful and sweet, but his imagery is explosive and provocative, blending lore from the Catholic Church and sexual subcultures.
These thread paintings are almost like divine intervention for Sal. Sal, who was studying to be a priest at one time speaks passionately about religion. “The Catholic Church is one of the largest BDSM groups in the world – there’s so much torture and pain in Catholicism. 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.”
Even the act of thread painting is a mixture of pleasure and pain, pushing and pulling a thick steel needle through brightly colored threads and canvas. Even the meditative and repetitive nature of needlepoint is close to prayer. Sal is completely devoted to his craft, he has poured thousands of hours into his work. His clarity of vision, attention to detail and strong voice make these thread paintings truly transcendent.