Sacha Craddock - critic & curator

Selma Parlour - Upright Animal

Parlour’s paintings carry colour without volume. Maintaining a relation to printmaking, the build- up is tonal, stained, almost as if in a photograph, with the sense of hands off as well as hands on. A layered levelling of colour, where the artist appears to have pulled the canvas, as if a shroud, out of liquid in a gesture of reversed negativity. Material is born from light which attaches and embeds itself on the surface and yet something seems to permeate from behind. Paint as material has been banished from view to become a layered, thinned, subliminal notion. Diluted and dilated, it has long been absorbed into the thought process of the artist.

But artists need rules and Parlour maintains her own court and jury. Sticking to notions that produce effect, she repeats colour, makes corners with tone that are still shallow. She seems to find movement through walls impossible, and so there is no real pretence or illusion. You cannot see far or deep but sight is sent along its way, to pursue a mimicry of architectural exactitude. Light, like that in a painting by Fra Angelico on the wall of a cell in San Marco, Florence, shows structure or message, caught in the paint that remains. Narrative is orchestrated and speech flows not through but around the corner, and out into a particular architectural reality. But this is to do with touch, with the surface, with knowing that sense is never purely visual. The canvas flattens and brings touch together with unsighted glance.

Colour lies in an afterglow or in an echo of something seen more than once and remembered. Layers of colour pool at the literal edge. The quality of grey, blue or purple carries great intelligence for it seems to have arrived in this world, fixed and not worked out through any apparent process of mixing. Parlour’s repetition of vision allows calm understanding rather than any anticipated experience. A range of association must be indulged, the relation to print must be understood. How does the graphic quality of the 20th century transport itself to now? Where is this manifestation of information, is the actual vehicle the surface of a page, the publication laid open, perhaps, a book or magazine?

At this the point, information on possible architectural detail - could this be the corner of a room, for instance - becomes abstract, pure and descriptive at the same time. Parlour alludes to depth, with the sharp edged distinction between the image of a notice board so subtle that the actual message is sunk into the place where it is held. A letter tucked into the shallow depth of braid, button, and baize, is a formal element. Classic tromp l’oeil is about shallow space, the repository for idea and thought. Parlour allows, with finesse and attention, the tooth of the linen to become the actual beat of the moment and detail, she uses cross weave as pixelation. While sight knows and shifts, the grain of the surface resonates with an unconscious understanding.

One colour is able to sit next to another with the structured, fine, barrier between. From Romanesque Mural painting, across the apse of Sant Climent de Taull, (now in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya Barcelona), through to illuminated manuscript, the movement between freeze frames has the effect of an almost comic book narrative, and an implication of a change of depth is achieved simply by colours sitting alongside each other. Here the illusion is not in the barrier between the place at which one element comes to another, but in the colour which is not logical either.

What a painting can achieve is a matter of dispute. For many there is little that can be done with the thing itself, for others it is capable and strong within its own language. Abstraction can be fascinating because a work can be further questioned, extended, embellished - and then also dismissed. Parlour has, through her fascination with installation and context, moved between asking the work to inhabit real space in order to continue the metaphor, style, emphasis, and manner of a particular context - and expecting the work to provide its own place, architecture, and context. The role of this fluidity in Parlour’s work extends further than Rothko, for instance, aware of the fact that his paintings would be the main feature of an expensive restaurant, or Leger, who had planned a chapel all along. It is not what the paintings lend a place that Parlour is concerned about but what they project onto it or draw back towards themselves.

Is there an ambiguity of scale, does that age-old support for abstract painting apply? Could it be a pond, lake or sea, seen from a mountain, hill or tussock? Is this a matter of fakery, of shallow scenery which in itself implies layers of make up? We deal with proportion and focus, looking into either a dolls house, or a palace. Is the illusion closer to relief, to the fact that everything is relative rather than real? The vision can be prismatic, at times; the sense is of permutations on colour as well as perfunctory shifts in detail.

Could it be more, less, or none of that? Parlour uses arrows to tell you where to go next with the eye. A range of almost virtual signs are used. If you look into the shallow space, then bounce back out again, the corner and walls come away. In France, fabric is still used on occasion stretched over walls instead of wallpaper, do Parlour’s painted walls on canvas arrive at the equivalent, a self-fulfilling prophesy? The boy with the Saxa salt holder pours salt on the tail of the bird, ad infinitum.

Flank II (2017) links to photography in terms of surface and glare. Echoes of blue and blue, both independent. Parlour makes clear that this is not free from invention; the lines seem rational, real even. It is all about knowing what you have here, reading the contradictions. A break in the painting, an arrow, suggests that the top section is in its way elsewhere. The reference, with a light ridge of fine graphic excellence, touches on the detail of a ceiling in a mid-Modern construction perhaps, or more humble quarters a century earlier. Neither too decorative nor over-elaborate the positioning is rather perfect, as it apportions out space.

copyright Sacha Craddock

December 2017

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Executive Member - AICA
Member of Faculty - British School at Rome
Chair - New Contemporaries
Trustee - Shelagh Cluett Trust
Trustee - Braziers
Trustee - Art House Foundation
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