John Ignatius Salemi (1952-2015) was born in Washington DC and spent his youth painting murals in Roman Catholic churches in Pittsburgh, PA. Salemi served in the US Navy for two years during the Vietnam War, where he developed heart problems and intense post-traumatic stress disorder. After returning from Vietnam, John became a conscientious objector and began hitchhiking his way North to Canada, eventually settling in Waterville, Maine around 1972. For the rest of his life, John would spend his days painting on the porch of his small apartment on Gray Street in Waterville’s South End.
As an outsider artist, Salemi produced hundreds of paintings and prints during the 35 years he spent in Waterville. Despite their eclectic subjects, his works betray an unmistakable and developed style, revealing a highly idiosyncratic religious world view, drawing inspiration from local Maine landscapes and wildlife as well as traditional Japanese and Hindu iconography.
In an attempt to bring attention to the artist’s staggering oeuvre, Thomas Crisp (Colby Class of 2019) is partnering with Waterville Creates! to present a selection of John’s paintings for the first time since the artist’s death. The paintings will be displayed at 93 Main Street in Waterville starting March 1st and will be on view until April 14th, when they will then move to Railroad Square Cinema as part of cinema’s Art in the Lobby series. A short film exploring Salemi’s artistic legacy will be released and presented at RR Square Cinema this spring.