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David Salle’s 14 “Ghost Paintings” were created in 1992, but have not been exhibited until now. The photographic images were printed on linen panels, sewn together and painted over with intense color. Upon close inspection, the photographs reveal an outline of a woman underneath a bed sheet, a figurative ghost.
“These photos cannot be made anymore,” David Salle said at Skarstedt Gallery, gesturing to his work. “The lab is closed.”
With the advent of digital photography, large-scale film prints have become mostly obsolete, the process itself becoming an apparition of the past. Salle, a crucial post-modernist of the 1980s, has often been criticized for creating enigmatic paintings that appear to “depict only found imagery.”
He has an interest in the relationship between cinema and painting. Many of his works use only primary colors, an aesthetic preference Salle attributes to the opening scene of Godard’s Contempt, wherein the screen flashes red, white, and yellow in between the introduction of Brigitte Bardot. Salle also admits to being influenced by the 1934 French film L’Atalante, in creating his black-and-white images.
The works are part photography, painting, and performance. Salle staged the movements with his longtime model Beverly Eaby specifically for the images, and feels the series engages with the performative nature of painting.
The artist intentionally mismatched the panels, added watermarks, and allowed for improvisation. He chose the colors and painted over them last, leaving some bare without color.
“How do you know if a work needs color?” someone asked.
“I can’t explain,” he answered.
The artist is as mysterious and layered as his creations. He has dabbled in directing and costume design in addition to being an internationally recognized artist. In 1995 he directed Search and Destroy starring Christopher Walken and Griffin Dunne.
“Ghost Paintings” will be on view at Skarstedt Gallery through December 21.