Wendy Seller has forged her own unique blend of painting, collage, and digital media to create work that, as she describes, “overlaps concepts of time and space.” She paints on photographic prints, re-photographs them, and creates complex digital collages. Her series Metaphors (figures), gives puzzle-like complexity to the faces of historically-clad figures. Their refracted faces seem to come alive with the relevance of both their own era and that of the 21st century.
Shana Dumont Garr: In your artist statement, you mention finding a means to overlap concepts of time and space. This is an ambitious goal that I think you do accomplish. Where does that vision come from? Was there a particular moment in your life that sparked your curiosity, or has it been with you as long as you can remember?
Wendy Seller: I have always held a firm belief that I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it. In my studio process, it often becomes necessary for me to advance my technical and conceptual abilities and establish new strategies for problem solving. I creatively thrive when presented with difficult obstacles.
My current process involves traditional methods of painting using gouache, an opaque water-based paint that is similar to watercolor. Gouache provides greater flexibility in my use of color and texture, and can be manipulated to assume the properties of oils. I want my images to take on the quality of “painterly paintings”, as a means of personalizing my work and tricking the viewer’s eye. My pictures are made up of many fragmented parts taken from photographs documenting Ireland, appropriations from art history, ongoing research, scanned nature forms, and microscopic collections. My works as combined parts might be described as “collage” — for lack of a better word — although my images involve multiple levels that I enhance through digital manipulation.
SDG: Your process integrates traditional painting and digital media collage. How long did it take for you to develop that process?
My experience with digital media began unexpectedly in 2009, when I went looking for more adaptive tools for teaching my Design courses at the Rhode Island School of Design, and enrolled in a Photoshop class. However, the prospect of incorporating anything “digitally based” into my OWN studio practice seemed unthinkable. One day, while doing my “homework” for this course, I experienced a truly eureka moment. I recognized that a direct link between “digital layering” and the traditional layering I had used in my work as a painter. From that point forward, my approach to creating meaningful works changed forever. The process I continue to explore involves documentation and research, experimentation and reflection. I purposely disguise — but also intentionally reveal — the working methods that guide me on this journey.
In my process of making, I fracture photographic, appropriated, and scanned elements as if they were pieces in an elaborate jigsaw puzzle. I sort through my large collection of visual fragments and rearrange the parts while looking to construct a greater whole. I am interested in the concept of connections, how one visual element might link with another to create a new image or how a found texture from nature might enhance one of my series of SPACES/PLACES landscapes. I also look for connections relative to time. In my METAPHORS series, I find links between women as they are represented through historical paintings and compare them to the role of women today. During my experience of conceptualizing, there is a pendulum swing between my painting wall and my computer that steer me toward a deepening of my thoughts or ideas through visual means.
My paintings exist in a liminal world, teetering on the fragile edge between truth and fiction, personal matters and universal contexts, subliminal psychological and intellectual layering. I actively search for new studio tools and experimental methods, using both hand-on materials and digital manipulation.
SDG: Your works seem perfect for storytelling, and would work well alongside the written word. Do you ever invent narratives for the images you create?
WS: Actually I don’t. I leave this to my viewers. By using the written word — which is not my strength — I fear I will constrict the possibilities for creative interpretation. However, I often play with words while I am conceptualizing a visual piece and hope that in time I can to bring words and images together.
SDG: Which artists inspire you? Are more of them from the past, or could you share a couple of contemporary artists whose work we should look at?
WS: There have been many facets to my own education that brought me to the work I create today. Although I worked with three-dimensionality for much of my early career, I have been most enlightened through several two-dimensional artists who had the skills and vision to trick the eye and spark the imagination. Among them are Rene Magritte, Remedios Varo, and Alfredo Castaneda. They were all masters at creating the “illusion of three-dimensionality” on a flat surface, and were able to bring qualities found in magic to our world of dark and light reality.
Wendy Seller exhibits her work widely, most recently at Kingston Gallery and in “The Enhanced Eye: Painters Using Photography,” at Catherine Hammond Gallery in Cork, Ireland. Other exhibitions include a solo exhibition at Bannister Gallery, Rhode Island College, Providence, RI, and group exhibitions at the Griffin Museum of Photography, Winthrop, MA, Danforth Museum of Art, Framingham, MA, and the New Arts Center, Newton, MA. Seller taught at the Rhode Island School of Design from 1990 to 2014 and was awarded the John R. Frazier Award for Excellence in Teaching. Among other honors, she has received multiple residencies at the Ballinglen Foundation for the Arts in Ballyvaughan, Ireland. Learn more on her website, wendyseller.com.