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At some point in the day, those big-headed characters spreading joy throughout Disneyland have to take off their heavy costumes and reveal their true selves. In many cases, it's an out-of-shape body with a tuft of chest hair and a pot belly from spending too many hours nursing beers at the bar. Samuel Salcedo was born to destroy childhood fantasies. A couple months ago, gossiping in the back room of the new 3 Punts, I found one of his figures of a flabby, nude male bearing the weight of an oversized Mickey Mouse head on his shoulders. I still get the chills just thinking about it.
Today I went to visit Samuel at his studio in the Sants neighbourhood, and I found him next to a naked man made of stone seated on some wooden steps, with his head inside a bucket of white paint. 'Ah, it's silly,' he told me, his arms crossed next to his Golem. 'What do you think? First I'm working on a sculpture and then I throw a bucket of paint on it.' I admit it: I pitied his marble victim. You could clearly see that it was stunned, just like the arsenal of defenceless creatures set up on the great table the same way they came into the world. I could feel them grinding their teeth.
At the entrance, to scare the busybodies sticking their noses where they don't belong, was basket full of resin human heads, piled like potatoes in a supermarket, or like garlic cloves in a Transylvania window. They look almost like they're from babies, with smooth little heads and chubby cheeks as if they were still floating in amniotic fluid. 'My sculptures are always a distortion of reality,' he said, making an interesting picture himself, tattooed and with one of his poor decapitated victims in his hands. I felt like I was in Herod the Great's trophy room. But Samuel looked satisfied with his collection.
He showed me his studio's library, where he stores catalogues of some of the artists who have inspired him. The collection goes from the hyperrealism of John Davies to the performances of comedy duo Gilbert & George. 'I've made a sculpture series of lead bookshelves inspired by this spot,' he said, 'with books on the shelves and a crushed head here and there.' Sometimes you miss things that are as plain as the nose on your face. In the middle of the room, on top of an immense pillar, a newborn with its chubby cheeks flattened so that it seemed like it had just thrown up its baby food. Exquisite. I almost lost my lunch.
HOUSE OF MIRRORS
Until 22 June