This Chicago Artist Reflects On His Family Heritage Through Materials


a male in a red chair surrounded by white and black wall sculptures

A central part of Salvador Dominguez’s practice is exploring time-honored techniques with nontraditional materials, such as his zip weavings, an interpretation of traditional Mexican craft

Like many artists, Salvador Dominguez considers how his viewers will interact with his work. But he had a specific audience in mind when he first started experimenting with his various processes. “Most of my family are laborers,” he explains. “I grew up in a Mexican American working-class neighborhood in Los Angeles, and the concept of art isn’t familiar to them, especially my parents. I wanted to have a conversation with people who don’t come from an art background.”

sketches on white paper next to a piece of embroidery

Sketches serve as jumping off point for Dominguez when he brainstorms new directions for his work.

fiber sculptures handing on a white brick wall

As his work evolves, Dominguez continues to experiment with various materials.

three woven baskets in white, silver and multiple colors

A selection of vessels—both finished and in-process—are styled after woven baskets that he saw being sold on the streets of Mexico.

fused together tiles wrapped in pieces of lace-like vinyl tablecloths

The artist's tile paintings, such as those wrapped with molds of vinyl tablecloths, speak to his upbringing in L.A.

hands in the process of weaving together strips of canvas

For his "Wave" artworks, Dominguez weaves together pieces of painted canvas.

The best way to create something that his dad could connect to, Dominguez surmised, was to use a visual language he understood. “He’s a carpenter by trade but knows how to build a house from start to finish, so he’s very familiar with laying tile,” the artist explains. “I thought it would be a perfect connecting point to make paintings that are based on basic tile composition.”

His first segue into these tile paintings began with using silicone molds to capture manhole covers on the street and then casting layers of paint onto the resulting form. So many layers, in fact, that it creates a material with a thick fabric-like quality—what he calls a “skin.” He cuts the skin into smaller segments and wraps them around individual tiles, repeating the process before heat-fusing the finished pieces together into one large painting.

Dominguez has since extended this technique beyond manhole covers to fabrics he remembers from his old neighborhood. “There were these vinyl tablecloths that are really intricate, but they’re just plastic that looks like it’s been crocheted,” he says. “So, it’s very easy to mold those.”

The artist was also inspired by childhood visits to Mexico, where he would see street vendors weaving baskets out of inexpensive materials, such as brightly colored plastic. “I’ve been trying to find different ways of connecting my work to my heritage and start exploring some of those traditional techniques,” he says, “except I wanted to use items that are more familiar to me.” Dominguez has experimented with these processes using a multitude of components, including PVC-coated cords. He removes the fibers from inside to create hollow tubes that he then threads with welding wire. “It gives the cord more structural properties,” Dominguez explains. From there, he uses traditional techniques to weave the cord together with zip ties and create his sculptures. “I like to be very playful with the materials,” he adds. “I find that by allowing yourself to play, you’re able to find relationships that you wouldn’t otherwise.”

By incorporating these cultural touch points into his work, Dominguez strives to make art as a whole more accessible. “Sometimes the gallery world can be kind of intimidating,” he says. “I’m hoping that, by using materials that are familiar or common, the work is more inviting and can at least start conversations about what art can be.”