Family helps bring painter's life into balance, by Ellen Tomson
The Minneapolis Institute of Art's current exhibit, "In the Balance," features intriguing oil-and-beeswax paintings by a prolific artist who works at her easel whole holding a baby on her knee. The artist, Margo Selski, is the mother of 4-month-old Tatianna, and two boys, Nikolai, 4, and Matheo, 6.
Selski, 45, paints in a Lowertown studio loft she has furnished with swings, a "treehous," climbing walls, and puppet theater and other amusements to keep her children bury while she paints for six to eight hours a day.
"She is grounded and living exactly the way she needs to, taking care of all the significant aspects of her life," says Cynde Randall, an artist and curator with the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program at the Institute. "She is a great artist, just really talented. If she decides she wants to do something, she will fiind a way. Her creative spirit is really intense. It feels like this magical energy."
While Selski paints, her boys, dressed one recent morning as Peter Pan and Batman, jump, climb and hover around her, mixing the fantasy worlds of Neverland and Gotham City as they play. Meanwhile, their mother's imagination cnjures and spins images of a red hen woman, ghost images, Shakespeare's Prospero holding up a mirror, cityscapes, sirens from Homer's "Odyssey,
checkered floors and pale women with exquisite faces wearing beautiful but odd gowns and their hair in floating twisting braids.
Selski's paintings bring to mind Northern Flemish paintings from centuries ago- but with a twist of KSalvador Dali surrealism. The images, which convey fear, desire, mystery, fragility and the layered, shifting nature of time, are symbolic and autobiographical. Yet to the viewer, they are open to interpretation . Selski has a fascination with ambiguity, hidden meanings and secret agendas.
"It takes a lot of tolerance to do what I do, not questioning your thoughts," Selski says. "In using metaphors, I don't explain or identify them. Instead, I just continue to formulate new concepts in my imagination.
A slow learner
Selski was born in Minnesota and has roots in St. Paul; an ancestor who was an engineer helped build the Wabasha Bridge. But Selski spent much of her childhood in small Kentucky town.
She was extremely dyslexic and her teachers were ill-equipped to help her; labeling her "a slow learner." As an adult, she still has difficulty deciphering time by the hands on a clock face.
My mother always said I was upside down and backwards," says Selski. But she learned to solve problems in her nonlinear way of thinking to her advantage.
Chickens don't fly, but Selski solves the problem in one painting by suspending her red hen woman from a pulley system. The message that there are more ways than one to accomplish something seems clear; but while her work may seem easy to "read," it is not.
In "Cry of the Siren," a coy woman in a boat floats in a frothy sea accompanied by three ghostly chick babies. A viewer could be lulled into a sense fo comfort" by the poised, self-assured sailorwoman, stable composition and checkered floor that can be seen through the water, says Selski. But other elements are puzzling and out of place; a chick flying across the top of the painting and crying into the ear of the woman while other chick infants play with a clown puppet.
The feeling of contentment and stability leads to "a place of instability, ambiguity and melancholia," says Selski. "I enjoy creating an emotional maze."
Selski majored in art edcuation at Berea College in Kentucky. She says she purposely dated only doctors until she found the right one: Daniel Selski, now a neuroscientist at the University of Minnesota Cancer Center. The two have been married almost 19 years.
After college, Margo Selski taught art in a public school for more than a decade. She earned a master's degree in fine arts from the University of Minnesota. She says her art is greatly influenced by a trip she took to Greece in 1998 to view Lake Prespa cave frescoes created by monks who combined early Christian, pagans and contemporary images of their time to create their narratives.
her Northern Flemish style emerged during pregnancy and the infancy of her first child. Her son had colic and cried as many as eight hours a day for his first four months of life. Sleep deprivation and the baby's crying clouded her mind, and the style emerged intuitively. she says.
She work industrial-strength noise mufflers while holding her bawling son and "just got busy painting and drawing." The presence of her children is felt in the way she works and in her subject matter.
She wears hospital gloves and overalls when she paints so she can vecome clean quickly if she needs to pick up her baby or help the boys prepare a snck. She just strips off the gloves and steps out of the overalls. She does not use turpentine or solvents or the bathroom and kitchen sink to clean up. Her studio area is portable and folds away when she has finished her work.
Anything is possible
Her paintings, which often include images of infants or their faces, are time consuming, usually requiring abouot four months of work. She paints with oils and then melts a layer of beeswax onto her painting. To create an aged, cracked effect on the surface, she painstakingly scraches through the beeswax with a sharp dental tool. Later she presses paint into the cracks, then sets the painting aside to "cure". She usually works on groups of three or four paintings at a time. She is a savvy marketeer of her work. A packet accompanies each painting she sells. It includes a listing of shows in which the painting was exhibited, as well as her resume. She also sends a newsletter to patrons twice a year.
"I'm making sure my paintings create an emotional experience, that they (patrons) feel connected to the piece they buy," she says.
But she probably doesn't have to go to all that trouble. "I think people can feel that magic, that charge in her art," says Randall. Selski's paintings convey the message that things are rarely what they appear to be in life and the idea that anything is possible that can be imagined.
"If I close my eyes real hard," she tells her children, "I can do flips in the air."
BIO/ ARTISTS STATEMENT
St. Paul Pioneer Press, Sunday, August 7, 2005
Margo Selski :Museum Exhibition IN THE BALANCE by Cynde Randall
The Siamese Twin
Fauna and Leaping Flora
Fauna and The Crying Queen
Tight Rope Walker
Desire and The Burning Bush
The White Queen
The Royal Induction
Flora and Fauna III
Flora and Fauna III -Close Up-
The Siren Child
Fauna and Child
Desire and Her Hen
Humpty Dumpty II
The Siren's Cry
The Siren II
The Cry of the Siren
Theater of Desire
The Brooding Hen
The Long Bed
detail of The Crown
The Red Comb
The Royal Egg
Desire in the Gallery of Pure Porcelain Replacements
Oeipnva (Siren) Detail
Flora and Fauna (Wolf Girl)
Flora and Fauna (Wolf Girl) Detail
Eve's Siren (Detail)
Fauna as Girl Wolf
Flora and Fauna (Girl Wolf)
FIERCELY FEMALE : Star Tribune by Mary Abbe
Article by Rachael Hoffman-Dachelet , Fall 2003