Heidi Hahn, in: Sweet Nothing Sweet, exhibition catalogue, Kunstverein KISS – Kunst im Schloss Untergröningen, Germany, September 2020 (translation)

 

In the paintings of Bettina Sellmann [...] the presentation is reminiscent of comic or manga drawings, but strangely unfamiliar. In pink and violet tones and economically applied brushstrokes, the everyday and the mysterious merge. Childhood/innocence turns into artificiality. The childlike becomes improbable, the unbelievable touching.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Dreher on the paintings of Bettina Sellmann. From: Corona Stories, Galerie 21.06, Ravensburg, Germany, April 2020:

 

 

Die folgende Kunst- und Künstlergeschichte soll unserer „Eröffnungs“-Künstlerin Bettina Sellmann gewidmet sein, denn ihre extravaganten Bilder waren es, die wir an Sonnwend 2017, also am namensgebenden 21.06. in unserer neu eröffneten Ravensburger Galerie 21.06 zeigen bzw. mit einem rauschenden Fest einem überwältigenden Publikum präsentieren konnten.

Mit dem Sellmann-Zitat „und irgendwie ist da immer ein trotzdem“ begann ich damals meine Rede anlässlich unserer Galerieeröffnung. Knapp drei Jahre später, in Zeiten von Corona, steht dieses Zitat in einem völlig anderen Kontext, aber es hat keineswegs an Aktualität eingebüßt. Denn die in Berlin lebende Malerin Bettina Sellmann ist immer noch eine Frau des „trotzdem“, sie lässt sich nicht unterkriegen, sie entwickelt ihren Malstil konsequent weiter und sie arbeitet unermüdlich, oftmals bis in die Nacht hinein. Auch in diesen Tagen trotzt sie Corona und malt weiter (trotz diverser Ausstellungsabsagen in ganz Deutschland). Wir werden ab Juni einige ihrer neuen Werke in Ravensburg im Rahmen der geplanten Ausstellung „NO (body) IS PERFECT“ hängen, immerhin ein kleiner Lichtblick für diesen Sommer!
Die in München geborene und heute in Berlin lebende Malerin hatte 2017 mehrere Monate für unsere Ravensburger Ausstellung (ihre Premiere in Süddeutschland!) gearbeitet. Wir wussten dieses Engagement umso mehr zu schätzen, weil wir der Künstlerin gegenüber ja noch nichts vorzuweisen hatten, außer Baustellenaufnahmen aus einer Provinzstadt im äußersten Süden der Republik. Doch Bettina Sellmann vertraute uns von Anfang an und sie malte nicht nur wunderbare Großformate mit Titeln wie nup, zap, zis, xuv, ixy, riu usw., sondern sie brachte sich auch mit ihrem professionellen Kuratoren-Auge engagiert und konzentriert in unsere Ausstellung mit ein.
Empfohlen wurde uns die Malerin übrigens von ihrer Künstlerkollegin Claudia Hummel, einer Weingartnerin, die schon lange in Berlin lebt und heute an der Universität der Künste unterrichtet. Bettina Sellmanns Malerei sei „einzigartig anders“ und selbst in der Großstadt Berlin ohne Vergleich. Diese Einschätzung hatte Stefanie Büchele und mich damals sofort überzeugt.
Sellmanns Malerei schafft es in der Tat, uns von Klischees zu befreien, so changiert sie zwischen Figuration und Abstraktion und schafft eine Stimmung, die Andreas Schlaegel in einem Text über die Künstlerin als „glamourös und magisch“ bezeichnet hat. Bettina Sellmann selbst sieht übrigens immer ihre Figur(en) im Bild, aber sie zwingt uns keine Sehrichtung und Denkweise auf, da es ihr wichtig ist, mit ihrer Kunst möglichst große Freiheit in uns Betrachter*innen auszulösen.
Spannend ist es im Übrigen auch, mit der Künstlerin über Themen wie individuelle Schönheit und persönliche Eitelkeit zu diskutieren, auch um ihren künstlerischen Schönheitskanon besser zu verstehen. Apropos Künstler*innen und Eitelkeit. Ja, es ist was dran an dem Vorurteil der künstlerischen und intellektuellen Eitelkeit. Auch Bettina Sellmann ist durchaus eitel, was ihr Werk angeht und so wehrt sie sich entsprechend klar und deutlich gegen Fehleinschätzungen und gegen platte schön-hässlich-Kategorisierungen. Zu Recht, denn ihre Malerei ist absolut „anders“, wenig konform und daher entsprechend angreifbar.
Es ist vermutlich auch das eine Jahrzehnt, das Bettina Sellmann in Brooklyn gelebt und gearbeitet hat, was ihren Arbeiten einen gewissen „spirit and way of life“ verleiht. Aus New York, wo sie im Übrigen mit einer Arbeit in der Sammlung des MoMA vertreten ist, kehrte sie wieder zurück nach Deutschland. Bettina Sellmann hatte an der Städelschule in Frankfurt studiert, war ein Jahr Stipendiatin in Paris, zog danach in die USA, um am Hunter College ihren Master drauf zu satteln.
Anlässlich der Ausstellung „Mond, Saturn und Tränen“ in der Frankfurter Oberfinanzdirektion erschien am 4.5.2019 eine Rezension in der Frankfurter Allgemeinen Zeitung, der die Malerin so beschreibt:
„Derweil ist Bettina Sellmann, die bei Christa Näher an der Städelschule studiert hat, mit Leib und Seele Malerin. Eine Künstlerin freilich, die nicht nur aus der Welt des Barock und des Rokoko, sondern stets auch aus der Welt der Alchemie, von Comic auch und Pop und Manga schöpft. Und dabei alle ihre Quellen in malerischer Hinsicht gleich behandelt. Ob die pinkfarbene „Venus“ oder der „Saturn“ in knalligem Türkis, der arglos den Betrachter anblickende „Little Boy Mad“ mit seinen rührend runden, strahlend grünen Manga-Augen oder das „Hübsche Mädchen“ mit onduliertem Haar in schillerndem Seniorenblau: Bettina Sellmanns geradeso zauberhafte wie wunderlich anmutende, in einem Rutsch auf die Leinwand getanzten Figuren sind nicht von dieser Welt. Sie materialisieren sich gerade eben zu seltsam püppchenhaften Wesen oder lösen sich im Gegenteil in diesem Augenblick in nichts als Farbe auf. Und blicken nun mit großen Augen in eine andere, in eine fremd und wunderlich gewordene Zeit. Eine Zeit und eine Welt indes, die der unsrigen doch ziemlich ähnlich zu sein scheint.“
Über sich selbst schrieb die Berliner Malerin einmal: „Meine Bilder sind geprägt von kindlichen Farben, sie erscheinen fast zeichnungsartig, leer und leicht. Durch die Malerei „teste“ ich unglaubwürdige, da überstilisierte Formeln auf ihr Potential. Bei näherem Hinsehen sieht man in den kitschig-kreischigen Oberflächen der Bilder das „Handgemachte“, fast sind sie trocken und lapidar gemalt. Der Malprozess liegt offen dar, ist nachvollziehbar.“
Ich würde Sellmanns Malerei als eine Malerei der „mutigen Träume“ bezeichnen, denn so wie sich die Motive und Figuren in ihren Bildern nicht festhalten und bändigen lassen, lassen sich auch unsere Worte und Gedanken zu dieser Kunst nicht fixieren. Viele von Sellmanns Bilder fühlen sich an wie gelebte Tagträume, die uns Flügel verleihen, die uns tanzen und lieben, schweben und abheben lassen aus dieser Welt, die leider viel zu oft aus düsteren Nachrichten besteht.
Wer mit Bildern von Bettina Sellmann lebt, hat immer eine Tür zu seinem persönlichen Wunderland geöffnet! Schon jetzt steht fest, dass wir alle verändert aus dieser Pandemie-Krise hervorgehen werden. Bis es soweit ist, könnten wir uns beispielsweise an Sellmanns Bildern laben, die weder Krise noch Dunkelheit thematisieren, sondern die unserer Phantasie freien Lauf lassen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extract from: Anett Göthe, essay accompanying the exhibition Glam Magic Manufactoray at Oberfinanzdirektion, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 2019

 

 

Die Figuren in Bettina Sellmanns Arbeiten, die an der Frankfurter Städelschule bei Jörg Immendorff, Christa Näher und Thomas Bayrle studierte, kommen in zartem Rosa, pudrigem Blau sowie in leuchtendem Gelb und Grün – gemalt in übereinanderliegenden, transparenten Farbschichten – wie Püppchen aus einem Comic oder Manga daher. In ihrer Leichtigkeit und Lieblichkeit, die ihnen anhaftet, fungieren sie jedoch als Metapher eines Traumgebildes, das die Sehnsucht nach Authentizität und Unschuld der Menschen symbolisiert. Einige Werke ihres Œuvres tragen Titel wie „Saturn“, „Jupiter“ oder „Venus“ und gehören zu der sogenannten Planetenserie. Bettina Sellmann bezieht sich damit auf die Alchemie, von der seit jeher ein große Faszination auf die Künstlerin ausgeht. Es ist das verborgene Wissen um die Kraft der Planeten und um deren tiefgehenden Einfluss auf das Energiesystem des Menschen, was die Künstlerin in den Bann zieht und Einfluss auf ihre Arbeiten nimmt. Denn Malerei ist für Bettina Sellmann mehr als die unmittelbare, materielle Erfahrung von Farbe auf Leinwand. Dabei geht es ihr vielmehr um die Virtuosität der malerischen Mittel, um Farbauftrag und um Transparenz der einzelnen Farbschichten sowie deren Überlagerung. Die bildliche Darstellung und deren Bedeutung speist sich schlussendlich vor allem aus den Gedanken des Betrachters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Catalogue Paint: The Seen, the Unseen and the Imagined, on the occasion of the exhibition, cur. by Catherine Milner, Messums Wiltshire, Tisbury, UK, 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

René Luckhardt, in: Farbauftrag, exhibition catalogue, Haus am Lützowplatz, Berlin, 2018

 

 

Spiral, Square and Dickie Bow ist eine Serie gleich großer Querformate aud dem Jahr 2015. Sie alle wiederholen die Darstellung eines Kawaii*-artig reduzierten Doppelportraits, das Bettina Sellmann malerisch variiert. Kawaii stammt aus dem Japanischen und bedeutet soviel wie süß, niedlich oder attraktiv. Das wesentliche Merkmal dieser Niedlichkeitsästhetik ist die Ausdruckslosigkeit der Figuren. Im Gegensatz zum klassischen Einzelportrait erzeugt dieser moderne Typus dieser "cute friends" ein anderes Verhältnis zwischen Betrachter und Gegenüber. Sie irritieren die Erwartung an ein unmittelbares Gegenüber durch ihr serielles Moment und ihre Nicht-Angewiesenheit auf die Betrachterin/den Betrachter. In diesem Spannungsfeld entwickelt die Künstlerin elegant die Auflösung der Gegenständlichkeit in ihren Werken. Der Titel bezieht sich auf die minimalisticshen Accessoires der Figuren, die auf halbem Weg zwischen Figuration und Abstraktion stehen und die Sellmann in diesem Bild schließlich so weit hinter sich gelassen hat, dass man sie gerade noch in ihrem arabeskenhaften Malstil erahnen kann.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Andreas Schlaegel on Bettina Sellmann's Paintings – text for catalogue Bettina Sellmann   Magic Every Day, ed. by Gilla Lörcher | Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2013

 

 

It’s already there!

 

If you wanted to explain painting, language is surely not the right means to do so. It’s much too concrete, arduous, time-based and cumbersome. A flirt could come closest, a coquettish and elusive approximation. This is the quality one can find in the personages of Bettina Sellmann’s paintings, as well as in her painting style itself, in the complex, association-inviting spaces she opens up by means of color, color handling and absurd or matter-of-fact descriptive titles.

 

“It‘s glam-magic!“

 

Her painting is glamorous and magic, but also “glam“ as in glam rock and simply “magic“ as in Queen’s song “It’s a kind of magic“. The girl in a sun-dress who is sliding towards the viewer as if on a slide or wave is accompanied by two apparitional pals: one is a horse, drawn in peppermint-green, cake frosting pastiche paint strings, with pink hooves and a yellow-whitish tail. The other one is a lively pink doll with hollow eyes, sliding closely behind her. The artist borrowed both images from the sugary, colorful toy line “My little Pony“, designed especially for girls. Since the 80s this toy has been popularized through an animation series, in the opening scene of which laughing pink and purple ponies slide down colorful rainbows. It is the projection- and -identification potential communicated by these happy-go-lucky, non-committal and, for small children, so attractive figures of an idyllic world that Bettina Sellmann makes transparent in her painting and gives a new spin. The artist abducts toys and girl from their context of consumerism, bestows them with ambivalence and sends them out on a downhill slide into the unknown: beyond reality, beyond commodity, beyond fairy tale. It is logical that in the process the girl’s face and dress dissolve into paint, foam and curlicues. Where borders are being shifted, safe identity attributions must vanish, too, and the childlike unselfconsciousness is gone.

 

The little yellow girl from “A Girl, a Swing and an Unwritten Letter“ has a frightened look on her face, as if she has spotted something terrible. She seems to just have swung over from a Balthus painting into Sellmann’s flowing turquoise painting space. It is as if the girl is just about to get entangled into the four lines of illegible writing. Images and words don’t have it easy.

 

And painting is more than an immediate, material experience of paint on canvas. The image comes to life in the head of the viewer, through the interplay of diverse factors.The virtuosity of painterly expression amplifies the meaning, because without the provocatively fluffy verve of Sellmann’s lines, her often gossamer watercolor-like paint surfaces, her pastiche relief-like worked details or the illusionistic figures, it would be harder for the viewer to experience the weightlessness of possibilities. The artist uses colors in combinations often so perfidiously artificial and downright toxic that they add an uncanny facet to an ostensibly easy-going girly palette.

 

Still, the approach to Bettina Sellmann’s paintings has the air of the lightness of a flirt. The word sounds old-fashioned, but, especially in times of the prevalence of sexually explicit imagery, the openness of a flirt becomes subversive as a play of hints, with the inherent uncertainty if there is more than just auto-suggestion or projection behind the seeming attentiveness. Is it not about bearing the tension between the binding and non-binding?

 

The figures in Sellmann’s paintings move about self-sufficiently, on a painting plane of freed-up sensuality (Marcel Duchamp talks about the “stupidity of the painters“) and at the same time within a space of poetic connotations. This way they can also be recognized as protagonists of a narrative about art in general, mirroring an enthrallingly multifaceted, sensual relationship between viewer, image and artist.

 

In another painting, amidst a black-violet tempest of colors with yellow lightning flashes, are the words: “It’s already there“. One identifies a toy figure appearing out of paint fogs into visibility, as if stepping from the depth of pictoral meaning into the surface of the painting, accompanied by psychology, the world of consumer goods, reality. But it is already there, the image. Even without words.

 

                                       

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. A. C. Uhl on the paintings of Bettina Sellmann, Berlin, August 2012

 

 

 

[...] In her paintings Bettina Sellmann early on developed a unique watercolor-on-canvas technique, using a palette of vivid, candy-like pastel tones which she applies in lush layers. New York City’s metropolitan hysteria thus gets transformed into psychedelic intoxications. Knightly and fairy tale motives are being hyperbolized into darkish-impressionist dreamscapes. And the climax of historic artificiality, the Baroque and Rokoko periods, are being turned into nostalgia-pop translucent versions of Old Master paintings, into seducing phantasmagorias from the “other side of pink”.

 

The pink and purple tones of Sellmann’s recent paintings re-enforce the tendency in her work to integrate the – still taboo – girlish and kitschy into her painting style. Here Sellmann picks up on what consumer and kidult culture have long recognized: the omnipresent longing for an alternative life style, for a better and more wholesome world within contemporary artificiality (or art). Sellmann does this without didactically imposing judgments or “critique”. But she also refrains from merely and superficially quoting Hello Kitty et al. Instead she allows the material to develop its own potential to carry her paintings to a place where they become unusual and challenging.

 

By combining different models of nostalgia, stereotypes of art and consumer culture, Sellmann brings contemporary material to fruition - FOR painting - by working AGAINST painting.

 

Bettina Sellmann has works in numerous private and public collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ann Wilson Lloyd, in: Figuratively Seeing, exhibition catalogue, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, 2009

 

 

Inspired by art historical imagery, Bettina Sellmann creates what she calls “see-through versions” of Old Master paintings. Using watercolor, Sellmann soaks the canvas with pigments to build up veil-like matte layers, punctuated with a few deftly drawn lines. Her minimalist approach belies a Baroque influence, in the drenched and deep colors that accent her sinuous and scrolling forms. The overall translucency makes her subjects look ghostly and ethereal, as if they have been temporarily revived by the artist only to fade quickly back into the time period from which they came. As the colors dissolve, so does the permanence of the portrayed figure, creating a sense of isolation and inevitable decay. Although Sellmann’s subjects often refer to the seventeenth century, her process recalls the soak-stain technique of twentieth century color field painters. She also combines a contemporary technique with her historical subjects by choosing to paint exclusively from images – whether snapshots, engravings, or other paintings – while her chosen subjects evoke an intense, brooding romanticism and often refer to her favorite archetypes; kings, queens, knights, and soldiers.

 

Sellmann’s playful way of exploiting a modernist technique of stained canvas, combined with her fascination of painting from well-worn images, has paradoxically given these clichéd subjects new life as ghostly presences.

  

 

 

 

 

 

Corinna Ripps Schaming. in: Flicker, exhibition brochure, University Art Museum, Albany, NY, 2006

 

 

Bettina Sellmann’s paintings evoke the conventions of Old Master portraits, conveying a sense of both mourning and desire articulated through familiar painterly conceits. Using multi-layered, translucent pigments in pale pinks, powder blues, and Day-Glo yellows and greens, Sellmann renders delicate watercolors on canvas in which solidity and form immediately break into fluid distortions. By peeling back the confines of exterior controls in this way, she reveals the truly illusory and contrived nature of representation. And by penetrating the outward signs of entitlement, Sellmann gives us a more socially charged and internalized portrayal of her subjects, suggesting the psychological isolation and inevitable decay that lie just beneath the surface of perfected appearances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sarah Jorgensen, TheNewYorkArtWorld, November 2004

 

 

Costume Theater: Bettina Sellmann at Derek Eller Gallery 

 

These watercolor paintings on canvas conjure a stunning and enigmatic world of costume, courtly manners and fine finishes defined by colorful washes and sensitively rendered drawings. On another level, Sellmann's work hints at conflicts in the rise of the individual, both historically and metaphorically, in today's world.

 

Originally from Munich, Germany, Sellmann has lived in New York since 1999, having received her MFA at Hunter College in 2002. The work in this show marks a departure from her previous, pop-inspired pictures; moving into more philosophical, and at times disquieting territory. Her whimsical lines invite, her washes expose. The essence of figures and their world is communicated, the decorative elements still intact. She allows colors to spread across the paper, but doesn't mix her hue. Instead, she plays with saturation of color. Like Lisa Yuskavage or John Currin, she is both attracted to the sensuousness of figurative painting and engaged in a conversation with European master paintings.

 

Through layers of transparent washes, Sellmann creates translucent allusions to Old Master paintings; elaborately costumed figures are formally posed in isolating environments of color and shadow. The restricted mobility of the postures and clothing follows a courtly etiquette and refers to classical Baroque portraiture. The younger sitters fuss, not having yet adjusted to their poses or corsets. Older subjects, however, have conformed to the rigid formality required by their costumes, indicating an acceptance of social position and the attitude that goes along with it. At times parts of the body of the subject, a breast, an underarm, or a thigh is exposed through the washy layers of fabric that supposedly cover them; making them appear naked, not nude. The characters in the paintings do not disrobe, they are visible within, not behind or without, their clothes. The beauty of the figures and their carefully constructed world are shadowed by this sense of unease.

 

Referring to the Baroque period is not simply an aesthetic choice. Sellmann sees it specifically as the beginning of modern times; the period in Western Europe when the philosophical writings of Lock, Hume, Newton and Voltaire extolled the cultivation of the human mind, and stressed individual skepticism and experience over superstition. At the same time, highly structured and complicated social rituals, an interest in perfected appearance and a strict formulaic mode of communication marked this period as well.

 

Using subject matter and formal technique, Sellmann investigates the experience of social roles and external appearances. In a metaphorical way, the paintings point at the general struggle to fit into demanding roles placed upon us from within and without. The conflict arises when we consider both the binding nature and necessity of these roles. The arbitrariness of these roles as mere "shells" may be revealed, but they remain necessary because we must inhabit them in order to engage the world around us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoran Terzic on Bettina Sellmann's Paintings – text for catalogue Bettina Sellmann, ed. by Galerie Kollmeier, Essen, Germany, 2003

 

 

Baby Face and Dreamy Gaze – Thoughts on a Metaphysics of the Portrait

 

 

1) Prologue

 

In Jean-Luc Godard's film "Breathless", the small-time crook Michel Poicard (Jean Paul Belmondo) drives a stolen limousine along a country-road.

"Great weather", he murmurs, waving around the gun that he has just found in the glove compartment of the car. He looks out provocatively, points the weapon and shoots from the car's open window – at the sun.

Poicard drives on, gesticulating.

He will shoot a policeman, get to know and fall in love with an American journalist, and he will, betrayed by her, in the end, die readily in a hail of police bullets.

 

The shooting scene seemed to me, when I saw it for the first time, more than the representation of the would-be criminal's naive cockiness. Rather, I saw it as an artistic gesture, born in the moment of outlawry high spirits and youthful cheekiness, characteristic, perhaps, generally of the 1960s in Europe (anticipated by the film in 1959). It is an unequal duel, in which the sun does not stand a chance. What is artistic is the admission of the one without power (i.e. the artist) that he will not give the powerful any chances.

The gesture of "killing the sun" is like the revolt against a superior god. Just like Lucky Luke, the cartoon hero who shoots faster than his shadow, Godard's protagonist challenges the sun's authority as if he was the henchman of Nietzsche's murder of god – an annoyed Narcissus and unfair genius celebrating the impudence of the moment.

 

 

2) The frozen moment

 

Two artistic symptoms, I think, can be deduced from the gesture described above:

1) every artistic image is an attack on a radiant authority (e. g. of a predominant technology, style or methodology), and:

2) every artistic image is an affirmation, i.e. the presumption of power and the subordination of all things under the perspective of the picture's creator (since the sun-killer crook-artist wants to decide for himself when it is day and when night.)

 

If we consider this on a first look at the series of works presented here, then we become aware of the idyllic character as something of a solidifying, preserving, sublime nature, as something identical with itself, on the one hand. On the other, something rebelliously poetical seems to counteract the framed character of the figures by the technical means of blurs and the partial dissolution of the outline. The completeness of the figures is attacked and blurred; the attack, however, does not destroy them. On the contrary, it is assimilated into the picture as a whole, into the composition. The delicacy and the vanishing both are method. The pictorial tension is created by and exists within this relation of the character's substance and its figural dissolution in the portrait.

 

Substance, according to traditional interpretation, is what is unchanging at the basis of all appearance. The figures – as I understand them – are striving towards stillness. They describe the paradox of a frozen gesture. In this sense, they are essentialist rather than transient characters. Still, one can read in them the presence of a movement from the recent past – just as if the stillness had only come upon them by the act of painting.

We see portraits; however, what we are dealing with is rather a metaphysics of portraiture. The painted characters seem to be viewed and designed from an ideal and absolute point of view, giving them a timeless and absolute meaning. The portrait "Baby Face", for example, reaches this timeless destination by way of a daring ambiguity of the face, which continuously oscillates between toddler and vamp as if representing timeless beauty.

 

 

3) The undiscovered visible

 

In the context of a fashionable fairy-tale world, the pictures seem "undisturbed", as if enchanted with the wish for untouchability. We can sense a longing for the safety of self-identity and an entranced image of the self existing beyond all definitions of culture and world.

It almost seems as if one is confronted not with portraits but with descriptions of the world, with the faces serving as camouflage, as subtle means of diversion, as guardians not allowing just anybody into these worlds.

I consciously write "it almost seems" because I have to ask myself: is it not absurd to claim that these pictures are not what they look like, since the way they look conceals them (i.e. their world)? Why do I suspect a secret world where there aren't, perhaps, any secrets?

 

Maybe it is just the deep tension between the imaginative undiscovered and the undisguised visible which creates the appeal of this series. The world is always present, however much its forms of appearance and disguise may vary. What is essential and actual in the world, however, eludes description. You cannot look at art from a general point of view; the only thing you can do is, as Nietzsche said, blink.

Maybe this is why the portraits can be summarized by the short formula the world basically excludes itself from essence. I can either recognize the substance and truth of a phenomenon (the defining, frozen moment) or their existence within a historical, sociological or psychological context (the fleeting, changing moment). I can either totally lose myself in the gaze of a loved one or grasp the "surface"; for example the color of the eyes and the movements of the face, physiognomy and psychology. I either "love" or I "watch". I cannot comprehend the entity of the world – called to synholon by Aristotle (the composite whole, the concrete), which means that I can only either comprehend the entity of things (e.g. as object of desire: "this x means everything to me"), or the entity of a process of consciousness, that is of existential contemplation ("I am this meaning").

In fact, the portraits make contemplation their subject – in the sense that the "being-in-the-world" of the depicted characters is reinterpreted, from a metaphysical point of view, into their "being-in-isolation". For us, the figures have been exposed, taken apart, and with them the space that surrounds them.

One could say that the pictures tell us of the absurd attempt to look at something from an absolute point of view and to watch how the world and we with it get lost in the process.

If we think of this, it is not surprising to find in this "longing for oblivion" the Baroque idea of vanitas.

 

 

4) Ornaments of the present

 

Egon Friedell, writing on the Baroque period in his "Cultural History of the Modern Age", regards several objects as symbols of this time: the microscope, the wig and the puppet. Important aspects of the age find their expression in them: the microscope stands for the interest in detail; the puppet for the mechanical image of man and the world; the wig for the stress on external form and style, etiquette, on the one hand, and vanitas on the other, i.e. life's transience. Indeed, the eternally grey wig of late Baroque can be seen as the emblem of an understanding of time that is sickly and agonistic. The powdered morbidity of the age can also be recognized from the beauty spots decorating the often grotesquely made-up faces, like memorials of decay.

To discover another aspect in Bettina Sellmann's works, it is important to realize the thematic parallels between this Baroque consciousness and today's world of images.

References to the fast and self-consuming world of fashion are initially the clearest indicators of a shallow cult of transitoriness, characteristic, too, of the Baroque experience of life. In other words: what was then "etiquette", today is called "brand".

The meaningful gazes of today's models are empty and silent – and in a modernized form – dead. The ideal of beauty today, like then, is time frozen, eternal beauty, created and preserved by tricks – then: powder and pencil, today: creams and operations. In this view, Michael Jackson seems more like a fragile Baroque china puppet than like an ageing pop star of the 21st century.

In addition, the Baroque cult of isolation, the peaks of which can be discerned in Leibniz' theory of monads , in Descartes' lonely "cogito" or in Thomas Hobbes' elementarist political theory, equals today's strife for individualism, also called "Mihilism" (Bazon Brock).

Even if human beings today, in contrast to 17th-century practice, are not understood mechanistically, marketing strategists still explain to us in detail what effects certain products and formulas of communication will have on us – for example, when describing the predictable reactions to product placement strategies. No wonder, then, that we think of Baroque marionettes when faced with the current concept of customers – people guided by the demiurge/communication strategist and, in consequence, doomed to play the game of life.

 

 

5) Point of absolute rest

 

If we think of aspects of vanitas, of isolation, of etiquette, of artificial guidance, which have risen from the Baroque consciousness into our times, then we also come closer to Bettina Sellmann's themes. Art, however, does not express such socio-cultural references in words, but within pictures.

These pictures, however, are not Baroque. Rather, the artist uses Baroque structures as shorthand, as painting studies, as suggestions, in order to express her pictorial ideas. (Imagine a fugue by Bach consisting of trills and appoggiaturas only.)

This impulse, however, is not led by historical nostalgia, but by the interest, or the longing, for a state of idyllic pause and by the search for a point of absolute rest of the figure represented. This point of absolute rest is nothing more than what, in Western tradition, had not only been related to worldly philosophies of life (e.g. the golden mean of ancient ethics of wisdom), but also to the personal determination in the hereafter (e.g. the heavenly peace of mind).

Accordingly, the pictorial characters presented here share a gravitational centre, followed by the pictorial composition, which they are veering towards like restless souls. In "Baroque Love", the couple is drawn in towards the centre, while in "Ophelia" the figure is clearly represented in the hovering moment of decline. In the Mona Lisa adaptation "Bow", the plane pictorial tectonics and a technique of blurring create stability in the center of the picture, while in "Blue", the face of the girlish woman impulsively clings to the onlooker's gaze.

 

 

6) Reversal of the fugue

 

Nevertheless: we should not be misguided by the outlined references to Baroque aesthetics.

The consciousness of the Baroque era was dominated by the view that truth cannot be improvised, i.e. understood intuitively. Truth ^ could only be deduced from premises, comparable to a fugue which gives birth to a whole musical cosmos out of a single theme.

Today, we think differently. Truth is manifold and can be improvised, ^ created spontaneously, as demonstrated not only by the improvisational music of the 20th century but also by the various artistic approaches of this time, our time, now.

Bettina Sellmann's work follows these lines. Her paintings and drawings are not founded on derivable formula, but on a painter’s directness which dominates the subject artistically, transforming it into an inner pictorial experience.

Although making use of a Baroque vocabulary, the series of works presented here tries to create the opposite of a Baroque fugue: it does not start with one theme at a time, which is then varied and permutated. On the contrary: the pictures try, with the greatest ease, to deduce their main theme from the media cosmos in front of them. They create formula, abbreviations and axioms. They are not allegories in the common sense of the word , but they create pictorial sense. As a result, their pictorial logic is an allegory, or fugue, turned into its negative. Out of manifold figural and sensual elements, this reversed fugue creates singular moments of consciousness – with a beauty proliferating endlessly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extract from: Magdalena Kröner, Mädchen, Mädchen. Wie Künstlerinnen den „Girlism“ neu entdecken, in: Süddeutsche Zeitung Nr.185/Seite 11, Feuilleton, Montag, 12.August 2002

 

 

An der Grenze zum Irrsinn

 

Dicht bis an den Rand der Hysterie führt die deutsche Wahl-New-Yorkerin Bettina Sellmann ihre lachenden Mädchen mit den ekstatisch zurückgeworfenen Köpfen, die sie nach Modefotos gestaltet und in bonbonbunten Acryltönen auf Leinwand malt, sprüht oder tropfen lässt. „Im Gegensatz zu den achtziger Jahren muss ich nicht mehr betonen, dass unsere Köpfe voll von Bildern von außen sind. Die Dinge sind dadurch vielleicht ungreifbarer, aber das macht sie nicht weniger einflussreich.“ Das Eis unter den Sellmann’schen Geschöpfen scheint dünn: Die jungen Frauen scheinen jeden Moment die Grenze zum Irrsinn oder zum Zusammenbruch überschreiten zu wollen.