Artist David Salle mounts an exhibition of early work alongside pieces by his friends of 40 years Eric Fischl and Ross Bleckner at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill.
“There’s nothing special or fancy about what I do,” says David Salle. “I have my house, and my dog on the beach, the farmstands, and a good book.”
David Salle, Ross Bleckner, and Eric Fischl met in the early 1970s as students at the California Institute of the Arts. Later, they all established careers as influential painters in New York at a time when painting was considered to be passé as an artistic medium. “I was doing what one does,” says Salle of his post-college years. “You want to be a painter, you come to New York, and once you’re in New York, you somehow, if you’re lucky, eventually find your way out to the Hamptons.”
Not only did these three come of age in the art world at the same time, they’ve also lived parallel lives in a way. And now, the Parrish Art Museum is presenting their work in a unified exhibition, “Unfinished Business: Paintings from the 1970s and 1980s by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl and David Salle,” opening July 31. “The idea of competition doesn’t exist in the same way that it might in some other arena,” says Salle of himself, Bleckner, and Fischl. “We’re not competing for the same role. We’re not competing for the same job. Everyone is really quite singular and distinct, and our work is quite distinct.”
Yet, in many ways, there has been much similarity. The three have ended up living on the same street more than once. “Ross was on White Street early on, and completely coincidentally, I was able to get a building on the other end of White Street in the early ’80s,” Salle recalls, adding that Tribeca was a mecca for artists at the time.
Later on, in the 1990s, again completely by coincidence, both Salle and Bleckner owned homes on Daniels Lane in Sagaponack. “It was just one of those funny things,” says Salle, who suggests that it’s due to their singular personalities that they’ve remained friends all this time. “Ross and Eric are very witty, very funny, humorous people, but in very different and complementary ways,” he says. “There’s a sense of humor and sense of amusement—or bemusement—that underlies these last 40-some years, which I think speaks to the qualities, the personalities, of these men.”
David Salle’s early works: Fooling with Your Hair, 1985.
Living in the Hamptons, says Salle, is not a prime factor in his work; his affinity for the area is more personal, more about quality of life than quantity of work. “The quality of light matters if you’re a landscape painter,” he says. “Otherwise, I don’t think it enters into the conversation one way or the other. I mean, the light, which everyone experiences, is very pleasing, but the idea of light mattering to a painter would only be true if you were a landscape painter of a certain type.”
Salle does, however, respect the legacy of the East End, visiting the graves of artists like Jackson Pollock, Frank O’Hara, and Henry Geldzahler at the Green River Cemetery on occasion. And the rest of his free time is spent in a similarly low-key fashion. “Obviously, good paintings are being made all over the world, so there’s no monopoly on that here,” says Salle. “It’s a place that works for me... There’s nothing special or fancy about what I do. I have my house, and my dog on the beach, the farm-stands, and a good book.”
“Unfinished Business: Paintings from the 1970s and 1980s by Ross Bleckner, Eric Fischl and David Salle” runs July 31–October 16 at the Parrish Art Museum, 279 Montauk Hwy., Water Mill, 283-2118