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David Salle

American Painter, Printmaker, and Stage Designer

David Salle Photo
Movements and Styles: Neo-Expressionism, Postmodernism

Born: September 28, 1952 - Norman, Oklahoma

"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

Summary of David Salle

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.
David Salle Photo

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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