David Salle‘s career has spanned over four decades. Known as one of the major lights of “postmodern painting,” he conjures swirling masses of imagery culled from many sources.

He also happens to be a very sharp observer of his fellow artists, and his writings culminated in a recent book, authoritatively titled How to See: Looking, Talking, and Thinking About Art (W.W. Norton, 2016). It won praise from fans including Hilton Als and Salman Rushdie.

Where have these acute reflections on the craft of painting taken Salle now? New York’s Skarstedt gallery is currently offering a glimpse of his latest, in a show titled “Ham and Cheese and Other Paintings.” It features new paintings that layer painted passages with imagery culled mainly from advertising.

artnet News sat down with the artist to discuss both what it means to start painting small works late in his career, and how writing has become an important part of his artistic practice.

I guess we can start off with this new body of work. How did it come about? What was the inspiration?

I don’t know if I can pin-point one thing. My way of building a picture always seems to be evolving. Sometimes it moves faster than others. It sounds sort of vague to put it into words but I wanted to make an “open” type of painting, whatever that means. One with a lot of air in it. Another thing that happened is that I’m using a new kind of paint for some of the passages: Flashe, which has been around forever but isn’t used so much here.

Right. And it’s not an oil-based paint, correct?

It’s poster paint for grownups. It gives you a very matte surface and highly saturated color.

And how did you come to it? Had you worked with it before?

I’ve always liked a really matte surface, but usually you have to use additives, like wax, to get it. This paint is dead matte and also comes in a great color range. Once I discovered that, it was off to the races.

Focusing on some of the changes in your work, you have a collection in the downstairs gallery of these smaller paintings, which is something new for you. You’re known for making large paintings, for the most part. What was the impetus for showing these smaller works?

I’ve always gravitated toward this large scale—what used to be called the “New York School” scale. I love the challenge of making a big painting, one that you have to enter into, where you can’t take in everything in one glance. This type of painting has its own internal rhythm, and your eye moves around in it along certain pathways, at varying speeds, accruing bits of information along the way.

That’s always been my orientation to painting. I arrived at this way of looking early on, and it allowed me to develop a personal sense of composition and structure. In a way, it’s been the driving force behind my painting all along. As a result, I’ve made relatively few paintings over the years below a certain size. That all changed in the last couple of years. I don’t really know why. Now, there’s a reciprocity between the bigger and smaller paintings, and I wanted to show it. Read more