Catalogue entry

P77192 Untitled from ‘The Raffael’ 1986

Aquatint with soft-ground, spit-bite and sugar-lift 455 × 604 (18 × 23 3/4) on wove Rives BFK paper 640 × 792 (25 1/4 × 31 1/8); plate-mark 460 × 607 (18 × 23 7/8); printed by Atelier Crommelynck, Paris and published by Maximilian Verlag Sabine Knust, Munich in an edition of 30
Inscribed ‘David Salle 1986’ below image b.r. and ‘3/30’ below image b.l.
Purchased from Maximilian Verlag Sabine Knust, Munich (Grant-in-Aid) 1987
Lit: David Salle: Arbeiten auf Papier. Arbejder pa papir. Works on Paper. 1974–1986, exh. cat., Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund 1986, p.18, nos.106–16, pp.80–1, nos.109–11, repr.

P77192 is a multilayered image depicting two naked figures in a hotel room in Paris. The male figure, who is cropped at the neck by the upper edge of the etching and whose feet and genitals appear at the bottom of the image, is delineated by relatively thick, pale grey lines. The bouquet of flowers in the centre of the image is depicted by slightly darker lines of similar breadth. The female figure, whose head lying on a pillow can be seen plainly at the top of the image and who is shown with her hands on her genitals, is depicted in thin, dark grey and black lines. The shaded areas that run horizontally across the image at the bottom and in the middle of the etching are suggestive of bedclothes. Superimposed on the figures are some of the fixtures and fittings of the hotel room, such as the bidet, the door handle and the lock. This layering of different images is a characteristic feature in Salle's work and suggests the fragmentary recollection of experience.

In conversation with the compiler on 27 May 1990, Salle said that the models for the suite were French and American dancers, whom he either already knew or had just met. They were dancers ‘who just happened to be working in Paris and who were willing to pose’. Salle declined to comment on the superimposition of figures. However, the sexual explicitness of the woman's pose appears related to a group of untitled watercolours made in 1984 (repr. Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund exh. cat., 1986, nos.27–9, 63–9, 74–94 in col.).

P77192 is one of a suite of seven aquatints made by Salle who was then staying in the Hôtel Raffael on the avenue Kléber in Paris. Four further etchings with the same title were published individually, each in an edition of twelve. Three prints from ‘The Raffael’ suite are reproduced in the 1986 Museum am Ostwall, Dortmund, catalogue (pp.80–1, nos.109–11). Salle worked on the plates in his room in the hotel after which the prints are named. In conversation, he said that the name of the suite of prints did not have any connection, beyond coincidence, with the Renaissance artist Raphael.

The starting point for the suite was Salle's decision to work with the printer Aldo Crommelynck, following a suggestion made to Salle by his German publisher, Sabine Knust. Crommelynck runs a print studio in Paris and is well known for his collaborations with contemporary artists, beginning with Picasso and Braque in the 1950s. He specialises in etching and his studio is famous for achieving subtle nuances of tone in aquatint, sugar-lift and other etching techniques. He recalled, ‘I did this very deliberate thing of going to a foreign city and working in a different way to the way I normally work, but for a finite time. We set a two week period for me to make the plates. I was going to work with whatever was produced in two weeks’. Salle went straight to the hotel from the airport and, after meeting Crommelynck, began work that afternoon. ‘There was nothing complicated about it.’ He finished the plates within the agreed timetable and the proofs were sent to the United States for him to alter and approve. He worked on the proofs in batches and each sheet went through about five to seven states before the final image was chosen.

According to Salle, ‘the real printing work in the Crommelynck studio, of course, had to do with achieving those greys, which is what the Atelier is really famous for’. In P77192, softground technique was used for drawing the thinnest lines and sugar-lift to draw the thicker lines, such as for the bidet, door handle and lock knob. Spit-bite was used to produce the shaded areas. Several plates were used for each of the images in ‘The Raffael’ suite and most of the plates Salle etched were used in the series. He tried many combinations of different plates before arriving at the final configurations in the published images.

Salle first made prints in the early 1980s. In conversation he said that his early prints, comprising etchings, lithographs and silkscreens, were somewhat simpler than ‘The Raffael’ suite. He characterised this series as ‘the most interesting so far’ and continued: ‘Predictably, the earlier ones were technically simple. One gradually becomes more curious and these etchings are a mid-point. Technically, there are quite a few things going on and they are more complicated than the first ones I worked on, which were really one plate to an image.’

Meyer Raphael Rubenstein and Daniel Wiener noted in Salle's oeuvre the sense of intimacy between the artist and model, which, they suggest, recalled the work of Picasso: ‘Picasso's presence makes itself felt also... the blunt presentation of physical attraction, the suggestion of intimacy between artist and model, and the dramatic telescoping of a personal narrative’ (‘David Salle’, Art Magazine, vol.60, no.10, June 1986, p.105). On this topic of the role of sexual attraction and intercourse in Salle's work, Elisabeth Sussman (‘Introduction’, in Dortmund exh. cat., 1986, pp.43–4) commented:

By far the most troubling aspect of Salle's art has been his continuous use of women as subjects, posed in the humiliating positions of pornographic magazines and movies. If the other images in Salle's work are distant, the images of women are electrifying and have the curious effect of diverting our attention from the painting to the painter. Although the painter does not picture himself - as did Picasso in his late paintings and drawings of highly erotic content - he has actually made himself the subject of these sexual paintings, because the viewer must immediately think of the states of mind involved in the process of making these representations.

Rubenstein and Wiener (1986, p.105) noted that the artist's decision in ‘The Raffael’ suite to draw direct from life was a departure from his more common practice of using pictorial or photographic reproductions. They also discussed the emphasis placed on the female figure and her pose:

This directness and hierarchy are surprising in an artist who has prided himself on depicting a world without center, on giving equal weight to every image. His paintings suggest that they may be continually rearranged at will, but here the images have become subservient to an overall plan, to the old story of artist and model, to the conventions of the boudoir. If Salle's work has emphatically defied coherence - indeed, this defiance has been the subject of his work - in ‘The Raffael’ he gives us coherence with a vengeance by offering the lucid narrative of a man and a woman in a Paris hotel room... More than anyone else these prints make one think of Baudelaire, the poet of elegant desire who saw the world as a swirl of correspondences ‘singing the transports of the spirit and the senses’.

The artist has approved this entry.

Published in:
Tate Gallery: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions 1986-88, London 1996