Found Along the Way
Berlin based Michael Sellmann is not a painter, nor is he a sculptor, a ceramicist, an installation or assemblage artist. He is first and foremost an aesthete, gently nudging elements into beauty with the help of time, environment and chance. Though his practice is ever changing, his process never does: minimal intervention. Unlike most artists, Sellmann searches for art outside of himself, creating it by curating his own reality.
The artist has been an elusive but ever present figure in Germany’s art world since the early eighties, when he was picked to be one of several artists (including, among others, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow, Noriyuki Haraguchi, and Richard Serra) in a group show called ‘Schwarz’ (‘Black’) at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.
The roughly 70 works on paper in this show are dated around 2015, though the process of their creation spans almost a decade. The sheets of paper were aged in sunlight until Sellmann found a discarded box of gold and silver leaf, and he called the paper into action. The resulting works, though sparse, are thick with tensions between the minimal marks. Light sustains a large role in the works, both in the reflective quality of the silver leaf and the continued aging of the paper.
There are a handful of themes Sellmann often returns to, each walking the line between humorous banality and vast depth of meaning, similar to the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything posed inDouglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Binary 0s and 1s have appeared in varying degrees of directness for decades. An untitled wall sculpture from 1988 looks at first like an ordinary (though outdated) power socket. The two plugs, however, only lead to each other in a cycle of nothing. In an assemblage from 2015, a man stands facing the camera at the front of a large field, holding onto a signpost with a 0 in bold lettering. Sellmann found the photograph in an old textbook and turned the sky golden.
The German Ach is another recurring theme. There is no fitting translation in English, though the sound is best described as a sigh. It could be the sight of a labourer finally able to rest after a hard day’s work, the sigh of grandmother lovingly shaking her head at a cheeky grandchild or that of a melancholiac despairing of the world. Here too, depending on the context within the work as well as the viewer’s mood, the gravity of the sigh will vary. The Ach, in its most playful form, pops into view when pulling down the handle of an untitled scroll. The object has donned the character of someone peeved to be awoken early, exhaling a sigh and a yawn in one – at least that is what it seems to me.
One must only see Sellmann’s studio with its infinite works in progress to understand that this is a man always looking, picking up objects throughout his journey and patiently waiting for their counterparts to show themselves to him. Oftentimes the artist will store an item for years before he discovers its purpose. Time is always a contributor and Sellmann guides it with a gentle hand. His works feel as though they are meant to be, almost like products of evolution. They are quiet objects in a noisy world, which makes them easy to glance over. But taking a minute to let these objects of subtle beauty cast their spells will always be rewarded.