"In The Studio With:..." is a weekly feature that takes us into the private creative spaces of emerging artists to discuss their work and career.
Brooklyn artist Helen Selsdon has built a practice and body of work exploring how traditional painting methods and subjects can gain new relevance. As a painter, she has a keen eye for the most important elements within a scene, which are depicted in her economic compositions. She is equally adept with both oil paint and water media, and works from life, whether it is en plein air at the Brooklyn Navy Yards or from live models in the Greenpoint studio she shares with her husband, painter Joel Adas.
Anthony Philip Fine Art: When we met with your husband, Joel, we discussed what it was like to share a creative space with a spouse, and we wanted to get your perspective on it as well.
Helen Selsdon: Art is central to our relationship – we both make art, talk about art, are strong believers in the importance of art, and generally live and breathe art! A dividing wall separates our two painting areas creating privacy when we are working. It’s great to have both the ability to work in silence and to have fabulous feedback readily available for each other. It’s also a huge bonus to have my own professional art handler!
APFA: You frequently use your husband as a life model. How does that other relationship affect how you interact with the model as you are painting. And how does it inform the paintings as opposed to working with other models?
HS: Joel is a great model, he has big strong limbs that I like to draw and paint. For a long while I just painted and drew parts of his body, but not really his head. I am less interested in creating portraits of him rather than exploring his gorgeous form in the space that it is occupying. I’ve never painted another man’s body so intimately and frequently, and I’m not sure I really want to. It is still unusual to paint a naked male, especially from the female perspective, and it is rarely done with anything other than just sex in mind. I hope that my paintings are both sexual and loving. I’ve been painting Joel for quite a while now, but recently, I have also begun to draw and paint images of my best friend’s daughter, a young woman who has grown up alongside my daughter. She has a fabulous curvy body. Interestingly I look at her with a far more artist-model type of gaze than I do my husband, which perhaps underscores the intimacy of the images I create of Joel.
APFA: You also paint urban landscapes. How much of that work is done "En Plein Air" and how much is done in your studio?
HS: My urban landscapes are entirely created en plein air. For several years now I have painted at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. I take the B67 bus into the Navy Yard, I am laden with equipment either for oil painting or to create works in watercolor/gouache and sumi ink on paper. I wander about the yard until I find something that interests me.
APFA: Could you discuss what it is about a specific scene that strikes you to paint it?
HS: I’m instantly drawn to the strong, bold and dramatic shapes of the cranes and shipyard equipment that fill the sky at the Navy Yard. Deep dark brown, red and yellow ochre steel girders as well as light blue, yellow and white cranes are scattered all over the place. These pieces of equipment have an incredible history. (The Navy Yard dates back to 1801). Many of the cranes are still operational and frequently move while I’m painting them making rapid, visceral reactions to what I am seeing a necessity. Space and light are central to my work – I use them to create the forms of my husband’s body, and to capture the presence and essence of the Navy Yard’s industrial leviathans.
APFA: What do you hope people take away from your paintings when they experience them?
HS: A great deal of joy! With my Navy Yard paintings, I hope that people feel as if they are visiting the yard themselves and can sense the grandeur of the place. Regarding my paintings of Joel, I hope they find him as delicious as I do!
If you would like to find out more about Helen and her work, please visit her website at: Helenselsdon.com