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In Conversation With David Salle

Our summer collection takes an eccentric turn thanks to the visionary eye of the American painter, printmaker, and costume designer.

In Conversation With David Salle

Our latest collaboration features three of David Salle’s recent artworks, each an eclectic mixture of stylised iconology. The collection’s swim shorts, shirts and summer accessories will really get the poolside conversation flowing.

Travel has played a big part in Salle’s life. Born in Oklahoma, he uprooted to California as a young man and was mentored by the late American conceptual artist John Baldessari at the California Institute of the Arts. But it was in buzzing 1970s New York that Salle shot to fame after forming a partnership with the celebrated gallery owner, Mary Boone. Since then, Salle has tallied up solo exhibitions in hundreds of museums and galleries around the world, including The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and more recently, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac-Marais, Paris. He now resides part-time in sunny East Hampton, a stone’s throw from our store.

When Salle isn’t working on a new masterpiece in his studio or creating costumes and sets for choreographer Karole Armitage, he takes to his computer to write essays on art. His acclaimed critiques have appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, and Town & Country Magazine, to name but a few. Is there anything Salle can’t do? We put our questions to the multitalented artist to find out.

O .B: Hi David, thank you for joining us today. Diving helmets, shoes, sandwiches, rubber gloves—there’s an air of humour and playfulness around the designs in the collection. Did you select these images at random, or is there a deeper meaning?

David: Images can have meaning in paintings without necessarily being able to say just what that meaning is. Humour is already a kind of meaning, as is playfulness. The images aren’t random. They’re associative—they initiate a chain of thoughts. The whole painting ‘means’—you can feel it, but it’s hard to put into words. It’s more a limitation of language than of painting.

O .B: Your art is often classed as Neo-Expressionism, but how would you describe it? Does the idea of categorising artists bother you?

David: Artists always dislike those kinds of categories, but they’re easy to remember. I think my art is about simultaneity, and maybe that’s its style too.

O .B: You spent your adolescence studying art and went on to complete a BFA and MFA at the California Institute of the Arts. How much about becoming an artist is learned, and how much is derived from raw, unpolished talent?

David: For me, the desire to make art came first from seeing it. Art comes out of life, but it mostly comes out of other art. Is that response learned or innate? I think it’s both. Talent will only get you so far. A good painting has to do so many different things at once—it helps to have a talent for all of them.

O .B: You once studied under famous American conceptual artist John Baldessari. As an artist starting out, how important was it to have a mentor, and to what extent has Baldessari’s style influenced your own?

David: John’s art exerted a big influence on my early work, before I found my own voice. I think he’s still in my work somewhere. It was a great help having John as a mentor—I mean, I loved him, and it was a comfort to have him in my corner. I learned a lot from him about how to be an artist, but I don’t think it ultimately made any difference to the way things have turned out. You still have to do everything on your own, in your own way.

O .B: In addition to John Baldessari, do you have any other creative influences?

David: So many people have influenced my way of thinking and being. Everyone from Matisse to Virginia Woolf to George Balanchine to Miles Davis. What I’m moved by is the attempt to give form to feeling, not a particular style or period in art. Some days it’s Bonnard, and others, it’s something else entirely. I’ve also been influenced by literature. There are few direct corollaries between painting and writing, but I think about how a writer I admire might describe something. Again, I’m interested in the process of giving form to experience, finding the organising principle.

O .B: How important is your studio setting when it comes to creating art?

David: You have to feel free when you’re in the studio. Mine is very straightforward—good light, high ceiling. Not fancy. Quiet and private is good—I can’t work with people around.

O .B: You’re also well-known for your essays on art. What pleasures do you gain from writing and painting?

David: Writing is an integral part of my creative life. It gives me great satisfaction to put an abstract idea or a visual sensation into words. I often surprise myself, which is kind of the point. Although they are very different, painting and writing complement each other, at least for me. But I don’t prefer one over the other; the clarity of writing primes me for painting, and the spontaneity and imagination of painting sets the challenge for writing.

O .B: You spend some of your time in East Hampton, a favourite of ours—you should visit our store if you haven’t already. Are there any hidden gems in the area that you’re willing to give away?

David: I’ve been to your store many times. I doubt that anything in East Hampton is truly hidden at this point, but what I like is that all the obvious things—the beach, the weather, the food at the farm stands—are available to everyone. Last year saw an influx of big-time art galleries; as strange as it may seem, it hadn’t happened before. My gallery, Skarstedt, opened a branch in town, as did Michael Werner.

O .B: We believe vacations and travel help us expand the mind, relax the body, and release the soul. As well as see wonderful places. What role does travel play in your life, and do you have any favourite destinations?

David: A lot of artists are great travellers. It’s important to see new things, new colours in the landscape. New faces. I’ve been pretty much all over Mexico, and every place I’ve seen there is interesting, beautiful, moving. I would like to spend more time in Mexico City.

O .B: What drew you to the collaboration?

David: I’m an O .B fan and have been wearing the swim shorts for years. I’ve always had an interest in fashion, or clothes anyway—the design of them, the styling. My father was a buyer for a clothes store when I was young, so I grew up with fashion to a certain extent. Beyond that, I’ve long been interested in exploring the different forms my art can take.

O .B: You also design costumes for the stage. In creating clothing for holidays and leisure, Adam (O.B founder) takes inspiration from holiday destinations, Hollywood icons, architecture, eras, even dogs! What inspires you when designing a costume?

David: I did ballet costume design for years. I would start by imagining the dancer’s stage character—what they’re meant to project. Ideas can sometimes come from unlikely sources: musical instruments, sculpture, movies. I’m going to start looking more closely at dogs!

O .B: Thank you, David. We’ll be sure to visit your gallery when we’re next in town.

The David Salle collaboration is available now. Find out more about the artist, his paintings, and essays at davidsallestudio.net.