New York

Roger Selden

Marisa Del Re Gallery

Roger Selden’s exhibition was organized according to the sizes of the works. A series of nine vibrant smaller pictures (approximately 15 x 19 inches each) lining a wall near the entrance to the gallery introduced, in a lighthearted manner, the visual themes explored more seriously in the larger works. Each depicts an arrangement of variously sized triangles, rhomboids, circles, rectangles, and diamonds. These shapes, in turn, might be marked with others—stripes, dots, or small squares—that elaborate the works’ elementary patterns while evoking familiar objects such as hats, pitchers, and houses. Selden’s symmetries appear to be organized so that we might follow his deviations from them, as though making the works was a kind of game in which a modification to the rules forced a change in everything that had come before.

Some paintings feature swirls, crisscrossing grids, and scribbles reminiscent of preschool efforts with crayons and finger paints. A thick cross of pink pastel divides one of the smaller pictures (none of the works in the exhibition is titled) into neat quadrants. Near the center of another, a little blue heart blossoms atop a leafy stem. The textures of some paintings suggest an antique quilt or faded wallpaper; occasionally Selden works torn black and white illustrations into the pictures. There’s a sense that, despite the finish of the works, they are put together piecemeal, their components torn or cut from something else as needed, drawn or painted on as desired.

Collage elements come to the fore in a number of works. In one smaller picture, painted segments are arrayed on a prominently centered rectangle of paisley lace, while others feature polka-dotted swatches of pastel cloth. Some of the medium-size and larger paintings incorporate pieces of a child’s drawings of a battleship, as well as rough ink sketches of what looks like a tabernacle and a few small Stars of David. As soon as the viewer identifies a specific motif in a work, there is a variation on it to be found in the same painting or in other works. Indeed, both the uniqueness of individual paintings and their interrelatedness as a group depend on their adherence to and departures from certain formal conventions. Many, for example, have strips of mat board or long rectangles of brushwork lining their edges that can act either as framing devices or as formal elements in their own right. It is as though Selden would like to extend the works indefinitely, but acknowledges that each must come to an end somewhere. Why not make of this inevitable limit something deliberate, self-conscious, and fun?

It is difficult to be both fun and self-conscious, but Selden’s work draws much of its strength from contradictions, such as that between the sweetness of the smaller works and the severity of the larger. The surfaces of the latter can be clotted and murky, achieving in passages the texture of a hurriedly spackled tenement wall. In one, variations of Selden’s signature shapes—in particular, the variously colored, upright rectangles plotted with dots that suggest a child's rendering of a building—seem suspended in the gradations created by violent smears on its mostly black surface. The effect is reminiscent of Red Grooms’ raucous cityscapes. In another, a coiled blue spiral, sparse black scribbles, pink globs and smudges, and a torn page of sheet music float on a field of brilliant red. Selden employs the elementary and familiar to arrive at something accomplished and weirdly affecting.

Tom Breidenbach