Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Chelsea Seltzer

When I visited Chelsea's studio, this painting was still in progress. I love how it has the pacing of a well told joke, although a joke in which the viewer isn't necessarily privy to the punchline. In a culture that is as obsessed with celebrity as ours, Chelsea's depiction of dead pop stars actually humanizes these cultural icons in their grotesque fallibility. We see an inversion of the typically glamorous depictions of celebrity in Chelsea's rendering; these men are the antithesis of sex appeal. This painting also reminds me of the Richard Prince joke paintings, only it's less didactic and it has a lot more freedom and fun in the rules of its construction as well as in its interpretation. This painting resonated with me since it's one of the freshest and least predictable paintings I've seen in some time. There's a looseness and ease in the color and handling of the paint which is reminiscent of Matisse, but the content which depicts the clich├ęd Utopic paradise as a comi-tragic destination, brings to mind Friedrich Kunath's ominous interpretations of Shangri-La.
I was just reading Sheena Wagstaff's essay, Comic Iconoclasm, which reminded me of Chelsea's work, especially when she writes:
"By using comic iconography, artists do the same thing as make a joke: perturbing, provoking laughter, attacking presuppositions and conventions. By annexing the comic character, they recontextualize it, thus altering its 'meaning.' Like the original Joke, the Fall, it threatens the established order of things. As well as appearing to blur the distinction between so-called  'high' art and popular culture, its seeming abandonment of seriousness has given art of this persuasion its special philosophical character."

Chelsea and I also discussed ideas of ritual and the occult, and the importance of both in her work. I used to think about ritual in relation to meaning in art whenever I would visit the African wing of the Art Institute of Chicago as a student. The masks and objects that had once been integral to religious ceremonies were removed from their initial purpose and presented as artifacts in the museum setting. The same can be said of the El Greco that had once hung in a cathedral. Throughout time, art was inseparable from ritual and faith. The more secularized and scientific our culture became, the inevitable schism from religion occurred in art. Despite our occidental tendency to idolize reason , we never lost our ability to mythologizing our lives. The philosopher Mary Midgley, writes about this condition in Myths We Live By, when she gives the example of the lone scientist, existentially isolated in the world, fighting heroically for truth in a world devoid of meaning. That is a prime example of a cultural myth that we are all so used to encountering, that it is easy to overlook how heavily imbued with subjectivity the tale of the heroic scientist is . At the core, we are all highly emotional and irrational beings, a fact that politicians enjoy exploiting regularly in their devious monologues of how concerned they are for the well being of our children, puppies, and kittens.

Chelsea has several developed bodies of work, and I appreciate her pluralistic approach to painting. This is a detail of her previous painting referencing the occult. She has an instinct for revealing oddness, and in this series she ruptures meaning by dislocating familiar symbols. The end result is a mysterious painting, comparable with David Lynch's nonlinear approach to film making.

Chelsea also has an ongoing series of shaped canvases. This beautiful painting shares a lineage with 17th century Flemish and Dutch paintings, only Chelsea's birds are happily alive, and not piles of little bird carcasses waiting to be devoured by some hungry nobility!

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