Professor Rafael Salas to translate rustic Wisconsin into artwork

Travel to “rustic roads” to be component of Salas’ sabbatical

By Andrew Faucher

Professor Rafael Salas.
Photo courtesy of Ripon College.

For his upcoming sabbatical, Professor Rafael Salas will be traveling and examining rural Wisconsin roads to encapsulate the contrast of nature and humanity through his artwork. Salas hopes the work will aid in teaching students about the deeper meanings behind everyday life and attract potential students to Ripon College.


“I plan to travel to roads designated as ‘rustic’ by the Department of Motor Vehicles in Wisconsin to compare the seemingly bucolic nature of these landscapes with the environmental as well as socio-economic conditions of nearby communities. I will translate those experiences into artwork in the form of paintings, drawings and assemblage,” Salas said.


The intricacies of Salas’s work stems from the visual connection between a struggling community and the effect it has on the environment around it. His artwork to this point has revolved around the passion he observes in rural America.


“The designated ‘rustic roads’ that I will research are often unimproved and lightly traveled, revealing a characteristic of the American landscape that is distinctly rural. These roads often exist near communities impacted by socio-economic indicators common in rural communities – struggles with development, dwindling populations, the advent of industrial farming and other factors that affect rural life. The comparison between roads and landscapes considered ‘rustic’ reveal a tension between natural beauty and the potential struggle of populations who live on and near these roads,” Salas said.


Salas wants to emphasize that any object or pile of trash can carry a deeper meaning. His message highlights looking insightfully at any given situation rather than rushing to a conclusion based on the basic level information.


“What is the visual metaphor created by finding trash and detritus – empty beer bottles, a crushed pack of smokes, a dead deer – in the ditch of a road described as ‘rustic?’ There is a visual juxtaposition between the bucolic aspirations of the landscape and the poignant contrast to those aspirations that becomes fertile ground for allegories of rural America, or even America at large,” Salas said.


Salas’s work will be on display in forthcoming exhibits at Beloit College, The Warehouse gallery in Milwaukee and the Museum of Wisconsin Art.


“This coverage always references my appointment at Ripon College and is a direct link for prospective students and their families to see the level of rigor and achievement that we produce on campus and in the classroom,” Salas said.