David Salle Tree of Life, Heavenly, 2022
Begun in 2019, David Salle’s dynamic Tree of Life compositions are centred around vibrantly coloured trees whose roots reach down into expressive, painterly worlds. Populated with characters from Peter Arno’s mid-century illustrations for the New Yorker magazine, the series sets up an intriguing human drama as the backdrop for a reflection on painting and the history of art.
The iconography of the tree reverberates throughout history, invoking the Garden of Eden, as depicted by Lucas Cranach the Elder in 1528 or the 19th-century drawings of Shaker artist Hannah Cohoon. Trees have also often been used in attempts to draw a direct lineage from French painting to American modern art. All of these references coalesce in the paintings by Salle, who associates the tree with a form of collective experience: a lineage of which we are all a part. In his compositions, the tree also conditions the interactions of the characters on either side, held in place as they are by the branching structure.