John Joseph Salvest (1955–)

John Joseph Salvest has gained national acclaim through his site-specific installations, object-based and performance art, and teaching. Salvest’s art is noted for exploring issues of time and mortality, the paradoxes of life, and the true and proverbial in literature. His success is evident through awards and solo exhibitions across the nation and a career that has spanned decades.

Born on February 13, 1955, John Salvest was the oldest of three children born to John and Jeanne Salvest. He grew up in Kearny, New Jersey, and attended Regis High School in New York City, New York. He received a BA in English from Duke University in North Carolina in 1977, an MA in English from the University of Iowa in 1979, and an MFA in sculpture from the University of Iowa in 1983. Since 1989, Salvest has taught sculpture and three-dimensional design at Arkansas State University (ASU) in Jonesboro (Craighead County), where he lives with wife and fellow artist, Les Christensen.

Salvest often employs his background in literature and an unyielding eye for “art-in-the-every-day” to create subtly provocative yet often ironic perceptions into the human condition. His works have been highlighted throughout Arkansas.

His work is regularly featured in the competitive Annual Delta Exhibition at the Arkansas Arts Center (now the Arkansas Museum of Fine Arts) in Little Rock (Pulaski County). The Grand Award winner in 1994 in the Delta Exhibition, Salvest’s Flag exhibits characteristic elements of his work. The work consists of wood and red-, white-, and blue-tipped safety matches. The wood, in the form of a crate, is emblazoned with the name of a company that produces explosive powders. The volatile words “explosives” and “dangerous” appear in bold lettering. The matches are arranged to depict a U.S. flag. Political, social, and personal, the work requires viewers to examine the connotations between the text and everyday objects.

A site-specific installation of significance to Arkansas was Words to Live By, a temporary work in 1999 in ASU’s Dean B. Ellis Library. The installation used seven flashing-arrow signs positioned in the windows of the seven-story building. Pointing upward, the signs, each with one word, integrate a passage from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust: “Whosoever strives increasingly upward can be saved.” The passage ascended “upward through the structure and, by implication, beyond its physical bounds.” Salvest strove to present a work, the “meaning and effect” of which “remain dependent upon the relationship of the individual viewer to it.” Employing the flashing advertising signage and the rich text of Faust, Words to Live By offers insight into much of Salvest’s works. Other works of interest are Reliquary (1991), Newspaper Columns (1997), and Coffee Calendar (1998), which illustrates Salvest’s preoccupation with time.

A body of work composed of flags, school chairs, by-products of human waste, literary references, and all things common to everyday experiences has placed Salvest as a prominent individual in the area’s arts. He has been featured in the Public Art Network’s 2004 Public Art Year in Review in Washington DC and has been honored by the Pollock-Krasner Foundation (1998) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1993). He received the Arkansas Arts Council Fellowship Award in sculpture in 1992. Among many solo exhibitions, his most notable are John Salvest: TEXTure (2002) at the Arkansas Arts Center; John Salvest: Time on His Hands (1999) at the Phoenix Art Museum in Phoenix, Arizona; and Nothing Endures (1998) at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City, New York.

In 2014, Salvest curated an exhibit at the University of Memphis’s art museum titled Disappearing Ink, creating a piece for the exhibit made of 1,400 front pages of the Jonesboro Sun newspaper resembling a flock of birds

Salvest’s Forever (a work consisting of second-hand romance novels) was chosen for the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s State of the Art exhibition, which opened in September 2014.

For additional information:
John Salvest. (accessed July 11, 2023).

King, Cyd. “Objects of Inspiration.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 14, 2014, pp. 1E, 6E.

Levin, Kim. John Salvest: Time on His Hands. Exhibition catalogue. Phoenix: Phoenix Art Museum, 2000.

Wilbur, Debra. “Studio View: John Salvest.” New Art Examiner (March 1998): 47.

Young, Brian. “John Salvest: TEXTure.” Exhibition essay. Little Rock: Arkansas Arts Center, 2002.

Eileen Turan
Arkansas Arts Center


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