Ticklish motifs await us in Tanja Selzer’s current series “Meet me in the trees”. Following on the heels of “Sabotage,” “No Tears for the Creatures of the Night,” “Mind Candy” and “Cadavre Exquis,” here we find half-naked and nude figures in the bushes. This is actually a classical motif in art history, and an extensively exhibited sujet with prominent progenitors such as Botticelli and Rubens and Manet and Cézanne and Picasso-and many many more. To be fair, we ought to mention Paula Modersohn-Becker as well: the very artist who, in 1906, painted the first nude selfportrait.
These days we believe we’ve seen everything. But Tanja Selzer would not be Tanja Selzer, had she not succeeded in breathing new and vibrant life into this otherwise hackneyed theme. In view of her new works, it appears as if Tanja Selzer conceives of the term “nude” (in German Akt) in its original sense as something derived from the concepts of “actus”-thus gesticulation-and of “agere”-which means “to set in motion”.
Her motifs are screenshots from the internets worldwide photo album. Outdoor moments that could have taken place anywhere. Scarcely compromising, when you see them on your computer screen. On the other hand, these paintings are not only of considerable size; they also show the bodies in a field of colour that appears frightening and irrational, yet simultaneously pleasurable thanks to the way it’s been ecstatically painted. There is something absurd about the manner in which these skin-toned forms have strayed into this ineffable world of colourful abstractions.
And it is precisely this contradiction that piques our curiosity and challenges us. At close glance the ecstasy is even more visible and palpable. Thus the forms in the back- and foreground-the shadows of the people and of the bushes, the colours of clothing and plants-all blend together in a floral-vegetable act of love. The love-play is an immediate and an intimate one, befitting the moment depicted and the detail chosen by the artist from the plenitude of materials available to her.
Selzer’s subtle painting techniques have been adapted to suit the theme portrayed here. Powerful, richly contrastive strokes alternate with gentle rhythmic glazing. With exceptional dramaturgical skill the artist guides the gaze of the spectator across the diversity of skilfully and picturesquely staged scenes towards a putative highpoint. The highpoint itself remains vague. As is often the case, it is up to us to imagine more fully in our fantasy the scene depicted, and to enjoy it for what it is-a painted canvas, but painted in an exceedingly pleasurable manner.
With her new series, Selzer alludes back to the early history of the nude-a age when the nude had yet to be rarefied religiously and morally, but instead paid homage, first and foremost, to the cult of fertility. Thus, in the works of her current series “Meet me in the trees,” Selzer not only probes the depths of the laws of painting in an exceptionally adept fashion, but also plays with the strange attitudes of a society that is apparently forced to withdraw back into the bushes, wearied by the sheer surfeit of virtual pornography.
Text by Harald Krämer and translated by Brian Poole. All images Courtesy the artist and 532 Gallery Thomas Jaeckel New York.