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Andrew Salgado is opening Andrew Salgado: The Acquaintance at the Art Gallery of Regina. Canadian artist Andrew Salgado, who has a show opening at the Art Gallery of Regina

Oskar Proctor

Long before she weighed in on Miley Cyrus's wrecking ball of a life, Sinead O'Connor was the ethereal Irish chanteuse whose voice defined heartbreak for a generation. In The Last Day of Our Acquaintance, she sang gorgeously of an ending love affair.

The song became a loose inspiration for Regina born-and-raised painter Andrew Salgado as he prepared for arguably the most important show of his life. Andrew Salgado: The Acquaintance opened at the Art Gallery of Regina this week.

"Because it was my first museum show and because it was my first big show back home, it was really important that I get it right," said Salgado during a recent interview from London, where he now lives.

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"To me, it was a statement show. I didn't want to go back to Regina and have [some] … pretty little paintings. I wanted to go back and blow the doors wide open."

Those doors are intimately familiar to Salgado. As a boy, he attended art classes at the Neil Balkwill Civic Arts Centre, where the gallery is located. His talent evident, he was enrolled in adult-level classes while still a child.

"One of the instructors told me he was the only six-year-old he'd ever met who wanted to discuss the principles of abstraction," says Karen Schoonover, the gallery's director/curator, who is curating Salgado's show.

Now 30, Salgado marks his triumphant hometown return with dramatic brush strokes and a textured, energetic confidence in eight large-scale paintings, which also represent a departure.

Much of his work to date has stemmed from a 2008 hate crime, when he and his partner were assaulted at a music festival in Pemberton, B.C.

The angry self-portrait that he created after the attack and subsequent works focusing on ideas of sexuality, masculinity and identity came to define his practice.

But with The Aquaintance, Salgado is moving away from the political forces that have driven him, and the personal event which haunted him.

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"At some point these concerns can become restraints," he says.

"I'm no longer the angsty 25-year-old reeling from this idea of hate crime that I was five years ago. I'm maturing as a person, chilling out a little bit. It's also allowed me to go into the studio with a renewed confidence. … I don't have to be so anchored by a political concept. Maybe I can just go in and let the paint sing."

A huge part of the shift involved Salgado transferring the focus from himself to his subjects.

A commission for the upscale London department store Harvey Nichols, where Salgado outfitted windows with six portraits, was a turning point.

Salgado didn't just want to paint types – the city gentleman, the bohemian guy – he wanted to tell the story of real people.

"For the first time it started being less self-indulgent in the sense that I realized that my subjects are actual people with actual stories and it's not about me, me, me."

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When he began to prepare for the Regina show, Salgado sought out acquaintances – people he'd met, friends of friends, someone from Facebook. One man came in and poured his heart out to Salgado. It became a defining moment.

"That's when I started listening as opposed to talking so much."

Connections were made – and that's where O'Connor's song fits into the picture. Like a love affair, Salgado and each of his models became an important part of each other's lives – maybe just for an afternoon, or maybe forever.

"Her song describes the last day of … an incredibly intense emotional love affair. And the way I see it is these are relative strangers who through a kind of arbitrary [act] of me choosing to paint them, I have a very profound and passionate relationship with, in that they're creating part of my career and in turn creating part of my life," he says.

"So it's kind of a romantic idea."

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