Born as Salvatore Mangione in 1947, he moved to Turin, Italy with his parents from his birthplace Leonforte in 1956 and as a young man became engaged with artistic activism that, along with political unrest, marked Italy’s North during that time. It was through these political interests that he was acquainted with several Arte Povera figures and decided to abandon his birth name for an artistic name: Salvo (meaning unscathed or holy). Salvo’s early artworks were highly conceptual, combining art-historical references including Renaissance paintings with his own image or name. This initially set him apart as an outsider, but during the 1970s he was established as part of a new generation and his fame spread across Europe.
As Andrea Bruciati notes: “Salvo’s willful naiveté of drawing and color in his references allows for an understanding of the transference that results from history: the dense material heaviness of museum painting becomes transformed in his lighter and airier approach, and transferred to a more spiritual level. The artist returns to more 'primitive' painting with nods to various masters—Cosmé Tura, Carpaccio, Paolo Uccello, Rafael of the Nazarenes, and Carrà—taking care that his smooth, distinct forms are painted with flat, unreal colors that evoke the palette of cartoons or comics. (...). Salvo’s apparent naiveté is the result of a relentless quest; it is the work of a master who has learned simplicity, not one who has learned to evade complexity.
In his production of the last decade the artist has been intent on summarizing and re-cataloging literally all the subjects he visited previously: the industrial suburbs, minarets, nocturnal images, and exotic and everyday landscapes. He has focused on reproduction, transcription, and duplication as a means of finding, evoking, and preserving himself in a process of unabashed self-quotation leading towards self-knowledge. At the same time his paintings are a sort of childish tantrum in which he wants to hear and see, again and again, the same story, or go inside an interminable pictorial image as if something were not quite explored and shown. They are painted with an incandescence never yet seen, and increasingly protracted risk, as they move towards the absolutely essential.”