comprising a series of paintings on canvas and paintings on paper.
Immediately eye-catching, these new works combine a vibrant palette with a dense and dynamic composition. Salle juxtaposes shapes and heterogeneous images that link the photographic to the painterly, while creating disruptions between black and white areas and bold colour tones. As a whole, the painting gives the impression of a visual collage and marks a step forward in the development of the American painter’s practice.
Following this new impulse, David Salle explores a more direct and gestural relationship with the very matter of painting, to the point of freeing it from all forms of representation. He applies an enlarged black and white magazine image onto the canvas to directly transfer its pigments without digital processing. This ‘photographic medium’, as the artist calls it, is revealed through the source image’s contrasting shadows that the artist transcribes through paint.
Although David Salle’s practice generally relates to figuration, these new paintings clearly show his long-standing interest in a principle of equivalence, or even reciprocity between images and abstraction, between the motif represented and the means by which it is accomplished. The works highlight the performative nature of painting itself, its non-reproducible and improvised quality.
The artist explores the tacit link that binds our gaze to the image. His visual vocabulary eventually leads to absurd relations and initiate a dynamic, autonomous of any convention. The process gradually gives elasticity and lightness to the pictorial space until the different layers of our collective consciousness are revealed. The recent paintings are imbued with irony and make vivid the strangeness of being alive today.
POLES, a new exhibition by Swiss artist Not Vital
Bringing together monumental sculptures, paintings, drawings and installations, this large-scale exhibition features a selection of Not Vital’s recent and new works from the last decade.
Not Vital is a singular and unclassifiable artist. Born in 1948 in Sent, a small village located at the end of the Engadine valley in the Swiss Alps, he grew up surrounded by nature. As he says “It took me twenty years to realise that I could make a sculpture of the mountain in front of me. I have seen this mountain since I was born.” At the age of 18, he started a nomadic life, immersing himself in the cultures of the places where he settled successively: New York, India, Niger, Brazil, Patagonia, Philippines and China.
Over the course of his travels, Not Vital has continuously reflected on the habitat, on the relationship between sculpture and architecture, on animality and on nature. Exploring the boundaries between abstract and figurative forms, his work is marked by the use of a large array of materials. Using the potentiality of plaster, steel, marble and ceramic with the same dexterity, as if they were as many different languages, he likes to thwart their usual functionality to give them another way of being.
Often destabilizing by their scale and the optical effects they generate, Not Vital’s works open imaginary spaces. This is exemplified by the sculptural installation Sta(i)r(e); the title is a play on words that decomposes the English term stair with the Latin verbs stare and ire, respectively meaning ‘to stand’ and ‘to go’. The sculpture stands, at the height of the largest nave of the gallery, in the manner of an immense staircase. Evoking a movement of elevation, the work recalls the majesty of ancient monuments such as the pyramids of Teotihuacan or Saqqarah.
Many works are inspired by his ongoing nomadism. Among them, A Plane, A Boat, A Car, A Sled (2011) combines a variety of forms to materialize in an imaginary and universal vehicle the multiplicity of means of transport necessary to reach the remote places where Not Vital settles.
Since 2008, the artist has established his main studio in Beijing where he makes most of his sculptures. The monumental installation Let 100 Flowers Bloom (2008), comprised of 100 lotus flowers in stainless steel measuring nearly three meters long each, is embedded in this local context. The title of the work, both poetic and authoritative in its phrasing, refers to the slogan of a propaganda campaign imposed by Mao Zedong in 1956. Each lotus is unique. Rather than being cast in a mould, it is hammered and welded by hand before being polished. The slight imperfections create a distinctive patina that plays with light.
The exhibition will also be the occasion to discover a new series of his HEAD sculptures, made in Jingdezhen, a city renown for being the capital of ceramics in China. Drawing inspiration from the impressive chimneys used to fire the kiln, Not Vital adapted the ancestral techniques of Chinese ceramics to produce totem-like sculptures, among the highest ever realized in this medium.
Presented in the outer spaces of the gallery, a sculpture representing an enlarged version of a camel pelvis bone epitomizes the close relationship Not Vital maintains with the theme of the animal in his practice. “The first sculpture I made was of one animal holding up another, in plaster. It is based on the place where I was born and raised. In the isolated mountains where I grew up, animals always played an important role.”
The choice of a camel is related to the time the artist spends in Niger, where the animal is at the same time a symbol of social status, a prestigious mean of transport, an exchange currency and a food provider. Like Henry Moore, Not Vital is interested in the sculptural presence of the bone and gives the skeleton an architectural dimension.
Because he regularly returns to the Swiss mountains, Not Vital does not forget the culture of his native Engadine. The signs used to mark the roads during the periods of snow have inspired him for a new series of steel sculptures, POLES (2016), which give its title to the exhibition. Featuring at their top a declination of reduced models reminiscent of some of his emblematic sculptures, they line up like signals, retracing key moments of his artistic path.
Not Vital established a foundation in Ardez, a small historic village in the Engadine, in 2003 with the aim of preserving the cultural assets of the Engadine. He also has a sculpture/architecture park near Sent and has realised contemplative buildings in Belgium, Patagonia, the Philippines, Indonesia, the Amazon, and Niger. His work has featured in “Plateau of Humanity” curated by Harald Szeemann at the 49th Venice Biennale, Italy (2001), with major recent exhibitions at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany (2005); The Arts Club of Chicago, Illinois, (2006); KÖR Kunsthalle Wien public space Karlsplatz, Vienna, Austria (2009–2010); Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China (2011); the Cabinet d’Arts Graphiques, Musées d’Art et d’Histoire, Geneva, Switzerland (2014) and the Museo d’arte di Mendrisio, Mendrisio, Switzerland (2014–2015). In 2013, 700 Snowballs was on view on the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice, Italy. In 2016, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park hosted his largest museum exhibition to date, establishing Not Vital as one of the foremost contemporary sculptor.