Using his acclaimed Tree of Life (2020-21) series as a source of inspiration, David Salle has created his first NFT–an animated video that brings the unconscious of his paintings to the fore through a dynamic choreography of moving objects, painterly gestures, and narrative elements.
David Salle’s NFT has been minted and is available for sale on SuperRare. It is being exhibited for the first time at the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut until April 1, 2021.
American artist David Salle has worked across mediums for decades—making photographs, integrating photographic imagery into multi-paneled paintings, directing a feature film, writing astute art criticism, and designing for the theater. But he is primarily known for his psychologically searing paintings that juxtapose incongruent forms of representation, from the erotic to the art-historical to the flux and flotsam of everyday life. A classic David Salle painting sutures such stark contrasts together while deploying the dramatic chromatic opposition between dark and light. The traditional chiaroscuro used for centuries by painters to render volume provided Salle with the compositional means to create noirish atmospheres practically vibrating with psychosexual tension. Paintings, Salle once explained, “do everything except move.”
Embracing the recent opportunities for artists to produce digitally based artworks on the blockchain, Salle has created his first NFT in collaboration with DMINTI. And for that inaugural NFT, Salle has quite literally made his paintings move. The leap into the new world of digital art backed by cryptocurrency made total sense to the artist, who shared that he had always wanted to make animated images, since he thinks of his paintings as already animated. And, ever aware of shifts in cultural trends, he was captivated by the idea of reaching audiences beyond the relatively narrow confines of the artworld, a reality offered by the potentially epic scale of online audiences.
Salle’s NFT, is a richly layered digital animation premised on his recent Tree of Life paintings, many of which were on view at the Per Skarstedt Gallery (September 17-October 30, 2021). This painting cycle is, perhaps, Salle’s most explicitly narrative, invoking a Garden of Eden populated by male and female characters adapted from Peter Arno’s iconic cartoons of New York City’s decadent café society from the 1930s and 40s. Fueled by martinis and a sense of existential crisis, Arno’s protagonists were always in pursuit of or fleeing from elicit romantic affairs, the result being endless misunderstandings and domestic arguments. This is the world of screwball comedy, which the artist complicates in unexpected ways. In Salle’s rendition, these actors perform their (prescribed heteronormative) roles on a painterly stage bisected by the archetypal tree of knowledge, which in biblical lore sprouted the consummate object of temptation, the ever-alluring apple that insured mankind’s expulsion from a mythical place of true knowledge or pure psychic integration. In other cultural traditions the Tree of Life is a generative symbol, connecting the subterranean realm to the heavens. Both connotative possibilities are activated in Salle’s paintings since the roots of the central tree often reach into a lower panel, a predella, suffused with gestural abstraction and floating objects culled from his earlier canvases. This panel suggests the unformed and the unconscious—a subjective past informed by cascading images locked into distant memories—a profound starting point for Salle’s animation.
The NFT begins in a nether region of swirling paint from which recognizable items partially emerge, including a ladder, suggesting ascension. Vision is drawn upward as the tree emerges from the ground, reaching toward an imagined sky against an abstracted background. Leaves grow on nascent branches while emblematic objects from Salle’s painterly repertoire–a flying sandwich, Kleenex box, set of suitcases, Maidenform bra, hotdog with mustard a deep sea diving bell , pack of cigarettes, ice cream bar, green olive with pimento, vintage car, inverted glass of milk, work boot, punching bag and mannequin—glide in and out of view like so many flashbacks. Two pairs of Arno’s characters enter stage left and right respectively while a worm squirms out of the apple that has materialized on the tree. The couples alternately flirt and argue while that incriminating apple succumbs to gravity. One of the women takes note of the fall. The worm, now of enormous proportions in its perch on the tree, turns a bright green. The narrative elements are then swept away; the screen is wiped clean by one of the men’s Fedora only to start again in an endless loop that is emblematic of a creation myth that also and always projects a notion of original sin. The Tree of Life, in Salle’s animated universe, projects the eternal return of the same. An apt metaphor for an artist who has claimed that “the Garden of Eden is still with us. We’re still in it: the conundrums it presents and the liberation it promises remain unresolved.”