By Davis Hill
On Oct. 6, the Eastern Art Department hosted an exhibition of the work of David Saling, an EWU alumnus who went on to complete his master’s at Arizona State University. He then returned to the Spokane area to teach at Spokane Falls Community College.
Saling graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2002 and was a recipient of the Frances B. Huston Award. He passed away suddenly on July 2, 2011 at the age of 51.
Friends and family painted the picture of a deeply intelligent, funny man who was full of life and utterly dedicated to his passion. “[A] perfect example of a life lived fully, intentionally, in a free and open way to being who he was,” said EWU art professor Tom Askman. “He wasn’t following the tribe.”
A Spokane native, Saling attended Riverside High School. After high school, he toured the Pacific Northwest and Canada as a drummer with the rock band Black Rose for several years, according to Shery Ward, Saling’s sister-in-law. Before returning to school, Saling worked a variety of jobs in many different fields.
Saling was a quintessential artist and could be very spontaneous, according to his brother Gary. “One time [David] called me up on a Thursday night when I was at work. He said, ‘What are you doing Saturday? … Debbie and I are getting married and I’d like you to be there.’” Gary said, laughing. “I had, like, two days to get myself ready for this wedding.”
Most of the work on display in the EWU Art Gallery is from David’s time at Arizona State, explained Nancy Hathaway, EWU gallery director. The biggest piece on display was “I Saw Red,” a collection of paper-doll-like naked self-portraits. The wooden cut-out sculptures are life-sized and stand among viewers as they move through the gallery.
“[David’s work is] contemporary art imagery combined in a narrative setup, open to interpretation,” said Hathaway. She explained that David was interested in addressing social issues, such as discrimination and gender perception.
“Women can wear anything they want to, you know, like men’s clothes, but for men to wear women’s clothing … that creates this big brouhaha,” said Hathaway. “David was very interested in … how people are influenced and bound by that.”
“A lot of this work is about the life experiences that he had … from the past or going on in the present,” she said. “The viewer has to figure out the thought or experience, what it means.”
“[There were] lots of different roads to where he ended up,” said Brian Saling, David’s brother. “I didn’t see him doing this.”
Karen Mobley, a longtime friend and colleague, agreed. “His taste was a little bit of everything,” she said.
Gary smiled and pointed to some of David’s paintings. “I see little bits from our lives as kids,” he said. “This guy, here … with the table saw … our father used to have a saw like that.”
“It’s … an honor that Nancy was able to put this together,” said Brian. “David was not your typical artist … he definitely saw things differently. You’ve definitely gotta see it. David’s stuff is done so that when you look at it from different distances, you see different things. His focus was different than other artists … who had been doing art earlier in their lives.”
See a slideshow of Saling’s art here