David Salles installation, TAPESTRIES/BATTLES/ALLEGORIES, features six large-scale paintings inspired by allegorical scenes from antiquity. These pictures represent something Ive been working toward for a long time a kind of all-over painting with articulated images, says Salle.
With assertive brush strokes in high key, saturated colors, Salle creates highly expressive and original translations of 17th and 18th century Flemish tapestries as well as 19th century French wallpapers, imagery that was originally produced by weaving or stamping. The paintings background scenes are symmetrically doubled across their central vertical axes, resulting in a Rorschach-like composition.
On these panoramic grounds, the artist layered shapes made by painting nude models and printing their bodies directly on the canvas as it rests on the floor. Salle covers his models in bright teals and turquoise, cadmium greens, oranges, yellows, reds, blues, white and charcoal grey. The presence of male as well female silhouettes also makes for a complex, relational reading. The shapes made by the painted bodies sometimes completely obscure the background, resulting in an abstract painting space that is both buoyant and suffused with light.
To this layered sandwich of directional color and shape atop the mysteriously allegorical scenes, the artist adds his familiar inset images that are essentially smaller discreet paintings that are cut into the larger work. These inset panels represent recurring motifs such as Adirondack chairs, canoes, and curtained windows, as well as grisaille portraits of women caught in a pensive mood. The juxtaposition of images, styles of painting, as well as the radical shifts in scale and direction all combine to create a fluid and expansive painting space, a dynamic comprehensive type of composition.
While the paintings make reference to Yves Kleins 1960s Anthropometries, Salles use of the human body to make expressive shapes on the canvas quickly assumes a life and meaning all its own and as critic Dawn Chan writes
unlike Klein, who pressed the painted bodies of nude women, like stamps, against blank swaths of negative space, Salle splays and drags his models paint covered torsos, haunches, and limbs such that they are overlaid upon his painted translations of the aforementioned wall tapestries. These tapestries, in turn, are re-imagined in colors almost as saturated as the body prints, so that looking at this new body of work can be as disorienting as the eye-popping illusions of Op Art.
For the installation, Salle worked with architect Christian Hubert to design a series of scrims and hanging panels to support the paintings at four points in the buildings glass-walled lobby, with two works viewable from the street, and the rest from inside the building. Recalling the way architect Philip Johnson displayed a 17th century Nicolas Poussin painting in his iconic glass house of 1949, a decision was made to work with the inherent transparency of the 1952 Lever House architecture and 'float the paintings in a quietly theatrical manner.
Richard D. Marshall, Curator