Born in 1952 in Oklahoma, David Salle grew up in Wichita, Kansas. In 1970, he was part of the foundational class at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where he studied with John Baldessari. After earning a BFA in 1973 and an MFA in 1975, both from CalArts, Salle moved to New York, where he has lived since.
Like many artists of his generation, David Salle initially drew inspiration for his rich visual vocabulary from existing pictures. Based on models from art history, advertising and graphic design, as well as, most significantly, his own photography, Salle creates an assemblage with manifold cultural references. Since the mid-80s, his paintings, with their emphasis on dynamic, relational composition, have included allusions to the works of the Baroque painters, from Velázquez and Bernini, to the Post-Impressionist Cézanne, to Giacometti and Magritte, and to American art both post and pre-war.
Since his first solo museum exhibition at the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam in 1983, Salle has continued to evolve as a painter intent on integrating multiple points of authorial agency into an unprecedented gestalt; his originality and inventiveness have been manifest in many distinct series including the Tapestry Paintings (1989–91), Ballet Paintings (1992–93), Early Product Paintings (1993), Vortex Painting (2004–2005), and Battles/Allegories (2009–2010). In the 1990s, he added sculpture to his oeuvre and also began exhibiting his black-and-white photographs, many of which were made in preparation for canvases. He also directed the feature film Search and Destroy (1995), which was produced by Martin Scorsese and features Ethan Hawke, Dennis Hopper, John Turturro, and Christopher Walken.
Salle’s paintings have been shown in museums and galleries worldwide for over 35 years. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at the Whitney Museum, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; MoMA Vienna; Menil Collection, Houston; Haus der Kunst, Munich; Tel Aviv Museum of Art; Castello di Rivoli, Turin; the Kestner Geselshaft, Hannover; the Guggenheim Bilbao. He was the subject of solo exhibitions at the Dallas Contemporary in 2015 and the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo in Málaga, Spain in 2016. He has participated in major international expositions including Documenta 7 (1982), Venice Biennale (1982 and 1993), Whitney Biennial (1983, 1985, and 1991), Paris Biennale (1985), and Carnegie International (1985). Salle lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.
Salle is also a prolific writer on art. His essays and interviews have appeared in Artforum, Art in America, Modern Painters, The Paris Review, and Art News, as well as numerous exhibition catalogs and anthologies. He was for some years a frequent contributor to Town & Country Magazine. Since 2017, his writing has been featured in The New York Review of Books. Salle is the first visual artist to regularly appear as a writer in that journal. His collection of critical essays, How to See, was published by W.W. Norton in 2016.