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Artists David Salle
David Salle Photo

David Salle

American Painter, Printmaker, and Stage Designer

Movements and Styles: Neo-Expressionism, Postmodernism

Born: September 28, 1952 - Norman, Oklahoma

David Salle Timeline

Quotes

"Once established, a successful style looks like an inevitability - maybe that's the definition of a successful style - but there's often the time when it looks like anything but."
David Salle
"For me, art history is like a feather bed - you fall into it and it catches you."
David Salle
"I remember this girl once - she had these very romantic ideas about art. She asked me, 'Where do you think your art comes from?' And I said, 'Other art.' She got totally turned off."
David Salle
"I wanted to live in a Frank O'Hara poem, and I did what I could to get close to that. It is really O'Hara's New York that I carry around in my head, and, to the little extent that I can, live in."
David Salle
"It kind of amuses me to be seen as a pornographer. Except that it's not true. I've rarely used images from outside of my own studio."
David Salle
"I started when I was nine. Really, everything I know about color theory, composition, drawing, and painting, I learned when I was a kid."
David Salle
"I thought of myself as being on a path - part of a chain of connectedness to the New York School. That was the excitement and the reward."
David Salle
"It sounds strident, but I feel like my whole career represents my stand against - or an alternative to - literal-mindedness."
David Salle
"When I was younger, I was interested in obscurity - almost for its own sake - partly as a way of slowing things down. I don't think that's the case anymore. One does change, over time. Things that might have bothered me 35 years ago, interpretive, narrative things wouldn't faze me now."
David Salle
"Most if not all art reaches backward to earlier models in some way; every rupture is also a continuity. The "reaching back" might be to unexpected sources, but imprints of earlier achievements are what give art its gristle and grit. What's different is the mode of seeing."
David Salle

"I feel that the only thing that really matters in art and life is to go against the tidal wave of literalism and literal-mindedness - to insist on and live the life of the imagination."

David Salle Signature

Synopsis

David Salle's career in art was incubated in the distinct hotbed of post-studio artists under the tutelage of the renowned John Baldessari. At a time when the art world had posited painting as past its prime, or important only within the confines of a new and austere minimalism, Salle along with his peers, were reinvigorating the form in bold new ways. Whereas modernist-era painting was rigidly fixed to the idea that a presentation of an image should stay as true to the authentic experience of that image as possible, Salle was using these same realistic based images as components of overall pastiche works that compelled the viewer to also see them as shape, color, and form, pushing them onto a heroic scale hinting at Abstract Expressionism. This marriage of traditional figuration with Pop art's obsession for disparate images, rejuvenated postmodernism and Neo-Expressionism by creating within the genre a pictorial space infused with humor and theatricality. Salle's work in the field of theater furthermore lent a sense that each painting was a stage on which actors - whether they be body parts, clowns, or furniture advertisements were all a part of a roving cast of subliminal characters in the ongoing drama of our lives. It is as if Salle's paintings are snapshots of singular moments within the constant stream of simultaneous superficial thoughts and visuals that perpetually dwell in our minds - non-literal and random bits hearkening to the beauty of ambiguity.

Key Ideas

For Salle, the process of collage was not limited to the usual juxtaposition of manifold cultural references or innocuous Pop. He also considered the combination of various painting styles from historical to photorealistic to cartoonish on the same plane as essential ingredients in his constructions as well as the use of various fabrics and opposing textures. Even differences between the black and white scale and color fields offered parallels in his work. Salle coined this element a "Vortex," a visual maelstrom left open to one's individual interpretation.
The use of pastiche measures heavily in much of Salle's work, a device by which he often imitates the style or character of another artist's work within his own. Pastiche allows for a recycling of past themes and modes of artistic tradition into a contemporary context. This reconfiguration of artists and works that came before allows Salle to celebrate and incorporate them into the evolving postmodern dialogue as contributors.
In much of Salle's work, familiar images are shown upside down or skewed from an average relativity. His use of body parts, floating by themselves in planes of blank space are a prime example of this desire to strip literalness from his subjects and instead present them, much like dancers upon the stage, as form rather than human. By placing common objects in these different perspectives, he asks us to process information in a new way, considering items for their shape or placement, jarring our associations from what is normal to what might be seen anew.
Salle's work off the canvas, most notably as a stage designer for dance and performance and then later into his career as a filmmaker, has bestowed his paintings with a theatrical element, in which we may come to view his compositions as frozen slides in the overall performance of our life and what we choose to show of ourselves, swirling in the ephemera of our thoughts, deeds, and obsessions at any given moment. This adds a directorial element to all of his work, which blurs the line between what is representational and what is authentic.
Salle not only created works of art but also wrote about art for such esteemed publications as ArtForum and Andy Warhol's Interview. His reputation as a prolific arts commentator adds weight and depth to his career, solidifying his role as Renaissance man in the art world, alongside his supplementary work in theater, stage design, and filmmaking.

Biography

David Salle Photo

Childhood

David Salle was born in Oklahoma but spent his formative youth in Wichita, Kansas. His parents were working class people of Russian Jewish heritage; Salle was among the second generation of his family to be born in America. As a young boy, he took life-drawing classes through a local art organization in Wichita. His interest in drawing and painting persisted throughout his adolescence, and he continued to take classes several days a week as a high school student.

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David Salle Biography Continues

Important Art by David Salle

The below artworks are the most important by David Salle - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Brother Animal (1983)
Artwork Images

Brother Animal (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: This painting showcases Salle's desire to present various images that come together to inspire multiple readings. In it we see two distinct visual frames: on the right, a couple rendered in deep blue can be seen in the bedroom. The man looks over his shoulder at a woman, who looks away, a stern expression on her face. On the left appears a large-scale rendering of a vital organ - perhaps a brain, liver, or kidney - on coarse brown upholstery fabric. Alongside the woman's palpable, strong emotion, the disembodied organ seems to hint toward an imminent crisis, or looming major decision. Judging from the evident detachment between the man and the woman, it could be a problem within their relationship that one - or both - of them is choosing to ignore.

Layered over the image of the couple are two legless chairs, a pink sketch of what appears to be an apartment complex, and a pair of clowns in the white wedge toward the center of the canvas. These hovering objects might symbolically represent the couple's memories or thoughts made visible. Alternatively, the several varieties of broken or defective pairs surrounding the couple may underscore the fact that their relationship seems to be on very shaky ground.

A number of critics have observed that Salle's paintings merge Pop art's morbid fascination with consumer culture and the heroic scale and abstruse nature of Abstract Expressionism. This is very much the case in this painting, in which various images - each intelligible enough alone - come together to form a whole with a more elusive and subjective meaning.

Oil and Acrylic on Canvas and Fabric with Wooden Chairs - Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles

Tennyson (1983)
Artwork Images

Tennyson (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: In Tennyson, we find the early onset of Salle's exploration into the female body as a provocative source of both guilt and glee within our communal psyche. A sensual nude lays on a sienna-colored plain reminiscent of a sun soaked beach, her back coyly turned toward the viewer. The monochromatic hue conjures soft porn images of yesteryear. The name of the noted Victorian poet spans the center in block letters of which only the first two are colored: "te," which when said aloud brings to mind the first syllable of an embarrassed giggle. A rust colored mark bisects the top half of the buttocks, as if evidence of a voyeur's presence in a water stain dropped accidentally on the pages of a dirty magazine. Swatches of turquoise and pink in the upper left hand corner provide an unassuming frame for a three dimensional ear carved of wood and affixed to the canvas. The ear, perhaps a rebus, asks us to "Listen." But listen to what? It may be the way we glorify the female body within the annals of desire, the way eroticism is something we shamefully keep secret, or the sounds of our childlike innocence as we awkwardly navigate the wondrous world of fantasy and desire.

This painting is a prime example of Salle's use of pastiche, in which he appropriates styles that imitate another work, artist, or period. We can see the jagged brushstrokes of Clyfford Still, the clunky assemblage of Robert Rauschenberg, the iconic lettering of Ed Ruscha, and the realistic, one-toned figuration of the human body as per Lucien Freud. This nod to other artists invites us to reflect not only on the individual painting's presumed meaning but also on the overall conversation perpetuated in the art world at large.

Oil, acrylic on canvas with wooden and plaster relief

Sextant in Dogtown (1987)
Artwork Images

Sextant in Dogtown (1987)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this piece, Salle combines an eclectic mix of found images from a variety of sources, painted in his own hand, though nevertheless reminiscent of a collage. Although constructed within filmstrip-like boxes that hint at an overall performance, there is no clear evidence of a "story." As in much of his work, the viewer is left to draw his or her own connections, in no prescribed order, and thus surmise a meaning.

Yet the curious addition of "Dogtown" in the title asks the viewer to collude in a type of metaphorical association that Salle has admitted is more relevant to his work than literal interpretation. On top we see colorful male figures in garments reminiscent of circus costumes, indicating that they are performers of some kind. This sits in direct opposition to the black-and-white lingerie clad women of the lower panels. The figure at the top right operates an old oceanic navigation device known as a sextant, which was used as a sighting mechanism that allowed a shipman to take altitudes in navigation. Therefore, the female bodies in the lower frames, which are positioned in a sort of striptease as spectacles to be observed, might hint at the many ways we navigate through our societal perspectives of women within society as objects of disjointed desire. The act of seeing, or not seeing, becomes an important theme of the work with an implicit focus on how we watch led by the invisible orchestrations of a media-saturated society as dogs upon a leash. This move into a more critical commentary might be seen as a direct reaction to the more conspicuous consumption of America in the 1980s.

Oil and Acrylic on Canvas - Whitney Museum of American Art

More David Salle Artwork and Analysis:

Comedy (1995) Sestina (2002) Sailor (2007) Silver 1 (2014)


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Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
David Salle
Interactive chart with David Salle's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Paul CézannePaul Cézanne
René MagritteRené Magritte
John BaldessariJohn Baldessari
James RosenquistJames Rosenquist
Henri MatisseHenri Matisse

Personal Contacts

Ross BlecknerRoss Bleckner
Mary BooneMary Boone

Movements

Conceptual ArtConceptual Art
Abstract ExpressionismAbstract Expressionism
Pop ArtPop Art
SymbolismSymbolism
SurrealismSurrealism

Influences on Artist
David Salle
David Salle
Years Worked: 1976 - present
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Jeff KoonsJeff Koons
Julian SchnabelJulian Schnabel
Robert LongoRobert Longo

Personal Contacts

Eric FischlEric Fischl

Movements

PostmodernismPostmodernism
CollageCollage
Neo-ExpressionismNeo-Expressionism
Appropriation ArtAppropriation Art

Useful Resources on David Salle

Books

Websites

Articles

Videos

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.

biography

David Salle (1994) Recomended resource

Edited by David Whitney and Lisa Liebman

David Salle (1991)

By George Trow

David Salle (1998) Recomended resource

By David Salle and Massimo Audiello

SALLE (1987)

By Peter Schjeldahl

More Interesting Books about David Salle
Artist David Salle's Colorful Refuge in East Hampton

By Mayer Rus
Architectural Digest
Nov. 3, 2015

Reviews: David Salle Recomended resource

By Dennis Kardon
Art in America
Sept. 7, 2015

There Are No Rules in David Salle's Pop Culture Mashups Recomended resource

By Abby Ronner
'The Creator's Project' (Vice)
May 5, 2015

Structure Rising: David Salle on 'The Forever Now' at MoMA

By David Salle
ARTnews
Feb. 23, 2015

More Interesting Articles about David Salle
TateShots: David Salle - Studio Visit

Brief 2012 interview with Salle in his studio

Culture Now: David Salle Recomended resource

Lengthy (90+ minute) discussion by Salle of his exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London

in pop culture

ARTST TLK Episode 2

Producer and musician Pharrell Williams' 2012 interview with Salle and KAWS

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jen Glennon
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Kimberly Nichols
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