‘Some images reveal something deep about how the world works; it seems as though they can access how consciousness is structured. Paintings exist in the present tense, yet somehow, because of how it’s structured, it can move backwards through time as well … That present tense-ness is the deepest pleasure’
‘There is art that reflects the singular self, and there is art that reveals a nonsingular, fragmented self. Obviously I am an example of the latter’
Painted as if from a snapshot of the artist’s consciousness, Old Bottles represents an outstanding example of David Salle’s evolution of Post-Modern painting. Populated with an extraordinary array of imagery from a range of different sources which are all kept anonymous, Salle composes these images with his own hands in a variety of forms and layers to create streams of thought, which are never fully explained. To create the foundational axes for his pictorial layering in Old Bottles, he has butted together a diptych of canvases, with two further small passengers inserted containing greyscale silkscreen images of bottles and glasses. Merging these with two women on a promenade stroll, a skewed interior scene that seems to echo a mid-century advertisement, wintry wrapping-paper motifs and a flurry of brightly-coloured butterflies, Salle creates a mesmerising visual display. Painted in 1995, the work is emblematic of Salle’s mature visual language, and is testament to his leading role in redefining the landscape of painting in the 1980s and 1990s. Do we read the bottles as sculptural echoes of the paired female forms behind them? What era produced that monochrome yellow tint to the image of the two women? Are the butterflies – which recur in a number of works from this period – emblematic of imaginative escape or transformation from their seemingly domestic backdrop? Characterised by juxtapositions of seemingly unrelated imagery, Old Bottles teasingly suggests an underlying narrative or meaning, yet ultimately remains tantalisingly elusive. Rendered on an imposing scale, it is an eloquent example of what Lisa Liebman has described as Salle’s ‘quest for resonant incongruity’ (L. Liebman, ‘A Prairie Picaresque,’ in David Salle, New York 1994, p. 19).
Reacting in antithesis to the cool, rational approaches of Conceptualism and Minimalism in the 1970s, painters like Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Eric Fischl in the United States and others like Albert Oehlen, Anselm Kiefer, and Georg Baselitz in Germany renewed the importance of expressive colour, texture, and figuration in their painting. Since Salle’s first solo museum show at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1983, he has continued to develop his ‘flatbed’ picture plane vernacular through multiple series including the Tapestry Paintings (1989–91), Ballet Paintings (1992–93), Early Product Paintings (1993), Vortex Paintings (2004–2005), and Battles/ Allegories (2009–2010). The 1990s was a particularly prolific decade for the artist as he elaborated his experimentations in sculpture, filmography and black-and-white photography – all of which in turn informed his painterly explorations.
Salle painted his first diptych in 1972 and has frequently returned to this format. Perhaps it was the influence of James Rosenquist’s vast dissected canvases that led Salle to work within divided picture planes, or John Baldessari’s tutelage at the California Institute of the Arts during the artist’s formative years, or even his love for cinematic splitscreen effects. For Salle it was to become a key format that would allow him to experiment with his unpredictive and intuitive form of surrealist automatism. Though his style has certainly fluctuated since the 1970s, visual montages and juxtapositions provided the foundations of almost all his practice. In the 1990s Salle drew inspiration from everyday commodities and, by doing so, marked his position within the trajectory defined by his Pop predecessors, including Rosenquist and Andy Warhol. This product-placement, however, was combined with stills from renowned films and quotes from art history itself. In Old Bottles, striking gestures, mute interiors, pensive moments, decorative patterns and bold branding collide in a vivid crescendo of disjunctive harmony.