A stylized tree vertically bisects the picture plane – on either side of which stand a male and female figure in various states of separation and togetherness – this presents the template for Salle’s newest series of paintings and drawings titled The Tree of Life. The solitary tree and coupled protagonist comprise a top panel, here a contentious man points toward a woman peering back with a raised brow, a sparse canopy of brown and orange leaves covering much of her face. Salle’s inhabitants of this Garden of Eden are boldly monochromatic, inspired by the visual vocabulary of mid-century cartoonist Peter Arno. The tree, infected by a large spiny insect, is rife with canonical symbolism and implied moral conflict.
Within the lower, narrow rectangular panel, Salle’s reveals what is normally unseen; the trees roots mingle with a strong teal infinity symbol overlain by three cubist faces. This “under the earth” slice, as explained by the artist, serves as the nourishment – some nurturing or benign, others toxic – from where the tree grows.
Unlike Salle’s early work, which consciously negated narrative closure, the works in this series tell many stories. Reimagining and re-contextualizing familiar yet disparate pictorial languages, Salle compounds the narrative potential of his figures to produce a highly complex and legible mode of storytelling.