“This world of imagination is the world of eternity” William Blake
Finally an artist who understands the interminable possibilities of what modern literature terms magic realism and art lexicons refer to as surrealism! Margo Selski has a Master’s degree in Fine Art from University of Minnesota, Minneapolis and her canvases are vast narratives containing universal notions of familial bonds, the vulnerabilities of childhood and the frailty of human existence in general, as seen through the lens of representational story-telling.
“Often the balances become uncertain. Relationships become confused. Mothers become sisters, a princess becomes a tree, the queen’s tears become rain.” Margo Selski, article in American Art Collector, November 2016
Selski uses beeswax mixed with oil paints, which adds a dimension to the materiality of the work; lending a vintage aspect to the canvas – one that would be so hard to achieve through a simple color palette on a prepared canvas. Selski constructs a fantastical dream-like state but the characters are so real in the sense of identity and accuracy, that the boundaries begin to blur between fantasy and realism. Selski uses a thematic framework of traditionalism and infuses into her settings, the ambience of a royal court in the Middle Ages in Europe, more French and British than Dutch as can be ascertained by the dress mode. The aspect of her work which distinguishes it from other works of surrealism is that these painting are mostly portraits and the protagonist looks straight at the viewer, creating an inimitable bond immediately. In this way the temporal difference becomes even more pronounced and disconcerting, an effect which the artist takes great pains to build and assimilate.
In one painting Passing the Torch from her series The Daughters of Atlantis, Selski depicts a noble woman, standing with a page or squire. The boy holds an archaic brass diving mask and a gun with a golf club at one end and a tiny trigger but an indecipherable instrument at the other. Ordinarily, the page or the squire would hold the master’s helmet and sword before a fight. Intriguingly, the patterning on the lady’s dress consists of sea creatures like puffer fish and goldfish, both exotic and banal specimens. This accumulation of diverse images is enough to induce the viewer to create his/her own account although the artist interjects this easy reading and asserts that she has no goal to create a narrative and instead stops short at inventing a dramatic atmosphere. It is also important to note that while the pictures are accretions of discordant and even anomalous objects, our take is never really dark or insidious. The message is one of lightness and quirkiness, even subversive perhaps but never banal nor disconsolate not melancholic. Selski’s protagonists, which may be a misnomer if there is no narrative suggested, do not display emotion but rather induce emotion.
We cannot but help derive parallels between Selski’s work and the ultimate children’s fantasy Alice in Wonderland since there are innumerable references to rabbits and pocket watches and this allows us to view this drama with playful suggestiveness rather than anxiety. In short she is closer to Magritte’s witty playfulness than to Dali’s underbelly of wretchedness and misery. Like Magritte, the painterly quality of Selski’s images evoke powerful assertions through their simplicity and though there is an air of mystery and marvel, and we in the 21st century, are much more likely not to be taken aback by their strangeness but simultaneously, we are compelled to search for clues to expand the metaphysical discourse that she presents us with.