Four pairs of eyes, one vision
Oakland’s Black Salt Collective brings its freewheeling creative energy to Verge Center for the Arts
A writing exercise, a hat and the talented hand that picked the lucky winning words: black, salt and collective. The phrase meshed well together and the name, Black Salt Collective, was chosen. It was after this name-picking ritual in 2012 that artists Grace Rosario Perkins, Sarah Biscarra-Dilley, Anna Luisa Petrisko, Adee Roberson and former founding member Fanciulla Gentile learned that black salt was used in protection spells.
“It fit perfect,” Roberson says. “There is a lot of protection around thinking about being in the art world as women of color—protecting your work and ideas and the institutions and gazes that might not understand it,”
“Salt is also something everyone needs to survive,” Petrisko adds. “Everything we do has infinite meanings.”
This sentiment of infinite meanings translates to their work and sets them apart as a collective. Black Salt combines a kaleidoscope of styles and mediums to create conversations that breach even the edges of their own artistic work.
In the summer of 2016, their collaborative skills were recognized: They were tapped to become artists-in-residence for two months at the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park.
“[Our] four murals were installed intentionally to be in conversation with each other, situated around a skylight in one of the buildings on campus,” Petrisko describes.
The color palette of Roberson’s collages and risographs exude happiness, while Petrisko’s prints—though a bit more chaotic—are just as vivid with bright emotions. Perkins’ work shares the same abstract shapes but with a desert-like quality (no surprise, given she is originally from New Mexico), and Biscarra-Dilley uses sharp lines within her collages that create organization within abstraction.
And now, Black Salt Collective has an exhibit at Verge Center for the Arts, Space and Place, featuring two of the collective’s favorite mediums: paintings and videos.
“The videos and paintings are different textures of the same cloth all woven together,” Petrisko says. “Some are more performance based and some are more landscape based.”
Liv Moe, the Verge’s curator, became a fan of the artists in late 2015. After attending an Oakland panel in which they featured, she says she was hooked.
“[Their] work is this combination of exuberance and joy alongside an assertive frankness about their personal and shared histories,” Moe describes. “Artist production is so often grounded in the individual that it’s really unique to see a group of artists produce work together.”
If that’s not enough, one particular video in Space and Place will feature palm trees, in case you’re looking for an escape from the winter weather. The paintings quite literally leap from their edges, weaving together neon greens, pinks and blues in a way that makes your body want to dance.
But their goal goes beyond that. Black Salt says they want to honor the lands and all the people that have inhabited them before. Petrisko wants everyone to “take his or her own truth out of it” and to “reflect on their energy and how it lives within a place or within a space.” For its part, Verge’s space should give off positive vibes after Black Salt splatters it with large pieces and bright colors.
Though the exhibit centers on Black Salt’s painting and videos, their repertoire doesn’t stop there. The four artists also dabble in music, installations, sculptures and performances.
And it isn’t all about the group’s output. These four women are trusted friends who use Black Salt to gather feedback and enhance their solo work. The collective has a special connection that makes working together easy, they say. They take turns filming, and each can wear the cap of director or cinematographer. There are no separate roles because everyone does everything.
“We get together in these bursts and bang out a bunch of work and then go off on our own because we are all very solitary creatures,” Petrisko says.
Their first official “burst” was in 2013 when the collective—along with Gentile—took a trip from the Bay Area to Perkins’ ancestral homelands in New Mexico. Together they traveled through Santa Fe and Blackwater and Fort Defiance in Arizona, filming clips that will be on display at Verge.
“We did a lot of filming during that trip and it really solidified us,” Roberson states. Trips like these are important for Black Salt, whose members are spread throughout California.
But once they’re together, they say they teach and support one another, whether in collaboration or for their own work. Each has strong individual practices that started before and continue with Black Salt.
Prior to the Collective, Perkins was working on art and music in Oakland and Biscarra-Dilley was pursuing art and academia. Petrisko and Roberson were both in post-punk bands in the mid-2000s. What instigated the friendship between the post-punk musicians? Myspace, in all its heyday glory.
The women still stay connected with the help of technology—and old-school traditions.
“We are all very intentional and ritual-based people … the kind of people that do rituals on the full moon, the new moon, the eclipse moon and everything in-between,” Petrisko says with a laugh. She explains further that they create altars, hike, burn candles or gather food from the wild.
With busy lives, staying grounded is a must. Roberson does massage therapy and DJs on the side, and Petrisko can be found teaching different body-based healing classes and collaborating with Practical Records in Los Angeles. Biscarra-Dilley is also currently pursuing a Ph.D. at UC Davis.
Even though the artistic and professional juices are flowing, Petrisko notes that the lack of opportunities and funding for artists all over the world can get frustrating. It essentially boils down to an opportunity block—not a creative one.
Petrisko does highlight the magic in being able to work with what you have and create and innovate even when there isn’t any money. She adds, “[Adee and I] are not just artists. We are both freelancers and hustlers, piecing together [our] income from multiple different sources.” Enter massaging and DJ work.
Their art is indicative of freelancing. They combine personalities, histories and stories into one cohesive and vibrant foundation. Juggling it all has become second nature to Black Salt Collective.
“My creativity is always active—or overactive,” Petrisko admits.