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David Salle (American, b.b. 1952)

David Salle was born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1952 and grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where he began taking life-drawing classes at eight years old. He continued his studies in outside art classes during high school, and he went on to study with John Baldessari at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, where he earned both his BFA and MFA degrees. Salle’s work came into the contemporary art scene in New York in the early 1980s. As a young artist supporting himself through several jobs, one of his earliest creative influences came from the remnants of working in the art department of a soft-core pornography magazine. When the publisher folded, he saved up several photographs that he used in his paintings as source material, involving the subjects of nudes, sporting events, and airplane crashes.

Salle owes ones of his strongest influences to filmmaking, specifically to filmmakers Douglas Sirk, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, and Preston Sturges. Cinematic devices, such as splicing and the use of montage are undoubtedly recognized in his work. His work follows the conversation of Neo-Expressionism, and to further develop his creative agency, he traveled to Europe in the late 1970s in order to absorb the work of his German contemporaries. It was in 1981 when art dealer Mary Boone exhibited Salle’s first solo show, and thereafter he gained popularity for returning the figure to painting. His paintings continue to distinguish themselves by combining figurative subjects with formal compositional painting and the appropriation of images from pop culture. He juxtaposes and fragments what seem to be unrelated images, creating original yet complicated narratives that refuse a singular interpretation.

In addition to painting, Salle is also an accomplished costume and stage set designer, having worked with companies such as the American Ballet Theater, where he first collaborated with Karole Armitage, an avant-garde choreographer and dancer with whom he has done several works. He was also the director of the commercial film Search and Destroy in 1995, produced by Martin Scorsese, starring Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, and Christopher Walken. He continued to paint alongside the stage, creating series such as the Tapestry Paintings (1989-91) and Ballet Paintings (1992-93). Salle even added sculpture to his oeuvre, and he began exhibiting his black-and-white photographs, several of which were made in preparation for his paintings. One key component of his work that has been used since 2004 is the vortex motif, juxtaposing the abstract, cartoonish form with representational imagery. Today David Salle lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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