PRINT October 2003

David Salle

I met Jim sometime in the early ’80s—Peter Schjeldahl brought him around to a show of mine. He seemed curious about younger painters. I had grown up knowing his work but really saw it in depth at the Whitney retrospective in 1986, which was dazzling. I was seeing a lot of the things for the first time, and I remember thinking how different the work felt from the way it had been encapsulated in the official version, partly because you saw only certain works, in reproduction. You saw only the classic paintings, never the really nutty ones with constructions and neon, or with the plastic bag full of paint tied to a string hanging from a stretcher bar. In person, you saw that the range of his work was wide, experimental, and risky. He was willing to take even a very thin idea all the way to its conclusion. He didn’t always need imagery; he could make a painting out of very little.

Jim has a classical understanding of the way light and shadow describe a form, which he then translates into the sign painter’s shorthand. The billboard technique is really classical shorthand. Gridding up is, of course, the Renaissance version of projection. The subject in Jim’s work is not the thing so much as the picture of the thing—the thing that has already been pictured. He continues a long line that marks the shift of subject from nature to culture. At the same time, the space in his work is a version of the Cubist space that has dominated picture making for ninety years and has only recently started to come apart. In a Cubist collage, the transitions are subsumed into the character of the mark making, and in Jim’s work, the transitions are the point: One thing smashing into another thing is where the action takes place. The innovation in his work—its stylistic hallmark—is the crash cut. Or the “smash cut,” I think it’s called in movies.

David Salle’s work is on view this month at Waddington Galleries, London.