David Salle: “I wanted to live in a Frank O’Hara poem”

The Brooklyn Rail has posted a new interview with the artist David Salle, who came to prominence in the 1980s as an important member of the “Pictures Generation,” which became known for its experimentation with appropriation, pastiche, assemblage, and pop culture imagery.

In the course of the interview, Salle mentions a life-changing event that occurred when he was a teen: he discovered Frank O’Hara.

When the interviewer, Hunter Braithwaite, asks Salle if he had any early literary influences, the painter mentions his youthful enthusiasm for writers like Borges, Beckett, John Hawkes, and Harold Brodkey.  But then he stops and says “But to go back to the beginning, also at 14, I discovered Frank O’Hara. That changed my life.”  The interview continues:

Rail: What changed your life?

Salle: That sense of freedom and everydayness. The sensory world that Frank provides access to in the poems was the one I wanted to inhabit. I wanted to live in a Frank O’Hara poem, and I did what I could to get close to that. It is really O’Hara’s New York that I carry around in my head, and, to the little extent that I can, live in.

Rail: You were reading this in Kansas?

Salle: Yes. Thank God for Larry Ferlinghetti and the City Lights Bookstore. He had put out those little pocket editions of the principal Beat poets; my local bookstore had them on a little revolving rack. I got them all, including Lunch Poems.

We’re accustomed to hearing about O’Hara’s profound connection with American artists, but the names that come up are usually painters like Jackson Pollock or Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns, rather than members of Salle’s generation.  So it’s interesting to hear that O’Hara played such a formative role in David Salle’s own evolution as an artist.

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