Los Angeles – MAUREEN SELWOOD searching for her mother’s interior life

 “Her drawings to me are a link to the real world (she just drew the world close to her). Her images stay at a very elementary level, as though she still had something to correct about her understanding.” M.S. 




This is “a posthumous collaboration between Maureen Selwood and her mother, Eileen Dympna Selwood (née Helene Neylon), who left behind at the time of her death hundreds of drawing pads filled with images created over forty years. Eileen was the youngest of twelve children, and grew up in rural poverty on the west coast of Ireland. She joined a convent in the late 30s in Dublin, but did not remain there. She married and came to America. Whenever she crossed the Irish Sea she wrote on a travel card that her name was Dympna, the patron saint of mental illness. Her brother said she suffered from hallucinations, both vIsual and auditory. But her condition was never given a name. She remained very religious and performed devotions. She also drew.” – James Galvin




1. Rosewater        2. Maureen Selwood, Danae 2014            3. Eve         


iKfHW2cdoN3VygFQun8ldTGvPgffOskSQ8N9w8L5okA    4. Birth            5. The Little Key is Lost. You Must Forever Remain Within





Mitchell Syrop, Final notes on paper ready to be transferred to the wall, circa 1996



Mitchell Syrop, Final notes on paper ready to be transferred to the wall, circa 1996



Mitchell Syrop, Final notes on paper ready to be transferred to the wall, circa 1996

These notes were transformed into  ‘wall paintings’ on three walls at Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Bergamot Station.

The Socialist Painter


Italy 1925, Beginning his life as a painter


ORESTE ALBERTINI, Grigna II. 1026  Oil on canvas, 240 x 126 cm.

Oil on canvas, 240 x 126 cm.

The socialist painter, positivistic and progressive as he was, paradoxically became the painter of the good and healthy Lombard bourgeoisie. Not only though, for his notoriety extended as far as Rome. The reasons why this happened are numerous, but the way he painted comes first: not conventional nor revolutionary.

Let’s go back to earlier times. His training dates from the dawn of 1900 in a symbolism-divisionism atmosphere. Gaetano Previati, Giuseppe Pelizza da Volpedo, Giovanni Segantini. OA’s paintings actually had a short period of divisionism. He ignored futurism, but judged rightly the value of Boccioni. The beginning of his professional life as a painter coincided with the coming of Fascism. Cultural isolation was a state of mind for OA, partly due to the nature of the Italian territory, and partly to the financial straits in which he grew up. The fascist era, moreover, caused him to keep a firm distance from the official trends that were supported by the government, I remember Carrà, Sironi. Unfortunately, I love Sironi’s urban landscapes.

OA had intentionally refused to be involved in Italian cultural life, which was also far from the Parisian ferment. Having the opportunity to be in a collective trip with painters to Paris, he gave up. A demanding trip? Who knows! Bad and good, this Italian isolation makes me say the important painting of the beginning of the 1900’s is Italian. Paris was certainly a melting pot of ideas and great artists, but many of them were foreigners; and the Italian journey wasn’t less significant, on the contrary.

I don’t believe OA would have been a different artist had he embraced a more international life; even shaped by culture, tradition and places, what prevails in an artist is his character. And OA’s character included two parallel pillars: the pride not to yield to the spirit of his time and an extraordinary technical ability. He was a high end artisan, from family tradition and professional practice. The way he could give a body and material consistency to the landscapes’ volumes seems to me extraordinary.

My presence next to him as a child, while he painted, fills my vision. I often went out with him and watched him while painting outdoor, and more than anything else I absorbed the charm around him. I used to curl up by a hill’s shoulder to protect myself from the wind. In March the sun is barely warm. I could perceive the same atmosphere he was painting. He was able to transfer his perceptions into the painting; that’s what his paintings give me back, those immersive moments. If this was the goal, his painting couldn’t have been different, nor did he really want to paint in a different manner. It wouldn’t be fair to say he was out of his time: stylized trees, as well as the houses’ volumetric consistency, when houses appeared, talk of 1900. His ambition was to follow his own road pursuing his personal aim (like the invention of a point for a drill). In times of revival of the 1400’s style of painting – which brought up quite good outcomes – OA’s search wanted to be self-directed even if, as we know well, time is where we belong. In the end the artist emerges and the public, also the bourgeois public, understands him -maybe their reading will be different from mine- but they grab it, the value of his art.

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Photographic portrait of Oreste

ALBERTO ALBERTINI, Photographic portrait of Oreste

A note about “superior dilettantism,” and Eugenio Montale resisting the fascist rhetoric.


In his 1925 essay, “Style and Tradition,” Montale [Italian poet Eugenio Montale] expressed the hope that his work “might contribute to the development of a cordial atmosphere of allusion and understanding in which an artistic expression, however modest, might emerge without being misinterpreted.” The result would be a welcome climate of what he termed “superior dilettantism.” By this he meant … knowingly mediated and humanly discerning engagement with tradition, an attitude utterly distinct from the Fascists’ shoddy pretense of renewing a past greatness of which they had no understanding whatever. … What mattered to Montale was that living men should not do violence to their own memories by declaring, like the Futurists, that the past has been superseded; or like the Fascists, that the past was Fascist too; or by the mandarin littérateurs, tat the past they had embalmed should mortify the living. 

Paradossalmente il pittore socialista, positivista e progressista, fu il pittore della buona e sana borghesia lombarda, ma non solo di quella perché ebbe sempre ottimi riscontri fino a Roma. Questo si spiega in tanti modi ma soprattutto con la sua pittura, né convenzionale né rivoluzionaria. Occorre rifarsi alle epoche. La sua formazione risale agli albori del ‘900 in clima di simbolismo – divisionismo. Previati, Pelizza da Volpedo, Segantini. Di fatto ebbe un breve periodo divisionista. Ignorò il futurismo ma apprezzava Boccioni. L’inizio dell’attività  pittorica definitiva coincise con l’avvento fascista. L’isolamento culturale in cui OA si muoveva era già sensibile sia per la natura del territorio italiano, sia per le condizioni economiche in cui era cresciuto. Il periodo fascista poi determinò il suo distacco completo dalle correnti ufficiali supportate dal regime, mi ricordo di Carrà e Sironi.  Malauguratamente amo i paesaggi urbani di Sironi! Volutamente non aveva voluto partecipare alla vita culturale italiana, se vogliamo, staccata dai fermenti parigini. Avrebbe dovuto partecipare a un viaggio collettivo di pittori a Parigi ma non ne fece nulla. Un viaggio impegnativo? Mah! Questo isolamento, relativo dell’Italia, mi fa dire che in realtà la pittura del primo novecento è italiana. Parigi era sì un crogiuolo di idee e grandi artisti, ma in gran parte erano stranieri e il percorso italiano è stato diverso ma non meno significativo, anzi. L’OA, comunque, penso non si sarebbe comportato in modo diverso perché è vero che gli artisti sono il frutto di molte componenti di cultura tradizioni luoghi, ma soprattutto, se sono artisti, prevale il loro carattere. E OA era caratterizzato dall’orgoglio di non piegarsi allo spirito dei tempi e parallelamente da una capacità tecnica straordinaria. Era un alto artigiano, di famiglia e per le professioni che aveva praticato. La capacità di dare corpo, consistenza, materalità ai volumi dei paesaggi mi pare straordinaria. Io tutto questo lo vedo in relazione alle mie presenze, da bambino, quando dipingeva. Spesso uscivo con lui e lo vedevo dipingere ma soprattutto assorbivo l’incanto che vi aleggiava. Mi raggomitolavo contro una riva, al riparo del vento, al sole tiepido di marzo. Percepivo l’atmosfera che lui dipingeva. Penso che avesse le stesse percezioni e queste riusciva a trasferire nel dipinto, questo mi rievocano i quadri, l’atmosfera, quei momenti. Se questo era il suo obiettivo la sua pittura non poteva essere diversa, né lui voleva che fosse. Né si può dire che fosse fuori dal suo tempo; la stilizzazione degli alberi, la consistenza volumetrica delle case, quando vi apparivano, indicavano che il ‘900 non era assente. La sua ambizione era quella di percorrere una strada personale, sua (come l’invenzione della punta da trapano), che mirasse al risultato che si era prefisso. In tempi di ricerca e ritorno alla pittura del ‘400, che peraltro ha dato frutti niente male, le sua ricerca voleva essere autonoma, anche se sappiamo che dei tempi si è comunque figli. L’artista alla fine emerge e il pubblico, anche borghese lo percepisce, forse non legge l’opera dal mio punto di vista, ma ne afferra il valore.

Oh Happy Day

Yeats reads Keading
HILJA KEADING, Oh Happy Day 1996,  still from video.

HILJA KEADING, Oh Happy Day 1996, still from video.

As W.B. Yeats put it, it’s a story of Mask, Innocence, Folly, Creative Mind, Simplicity, Abstraction, and Body of Fate. Phase Three of Part III in A Vision, 1928. The woman becomes an image “where simplicity and intensity are united.” This is not TV, it’s a punch on our face, a ringing bell into our dormant state of mind. It’s exactly what Yeats was told by invisible voices, but “he” in his text is replaced with “she.”



 HILJA KEADING, Oh Happy Day 1996, Single Channel Video, 3′ 49″

“She gives herself up to a kind of clodhopper folly, that keeps her intellect moving among conventional ideas with a sort of make-believe. Incapable of consecutive thought and of moral purpose, she lives miserably seeking to hold together some consistent plan of life, patching rugs upon rugs because that is expected of her, or out of egotism. On the other hand … if she is content to permit her senses and her subconscious nature to dominate her intellect, she takes delight in all that passes; but because she claims nothing on her own, chooses nothing. … Almost without intellect, it is a phase of perfect bodily sanity, for, though the body is still in contact in supersensual rhythm, it is no longer absorbed in that rhythm; eyes and ears are open [clean, I would say in this piece]; one instinct balances another; every season brings its delight.”

Oh Happy Day.




MICHAL ROVNER, Current, 2014. Video projection, Dimensions variable. Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery

MICHAL ROVNER, Current Cross, 2014. Video projection, Dimensions variable. Courtesy Shoshana Wayne Gallery

I wonder if time really counts in our soul, for all human beings since the beginning. No memory carries the day. Time of the dead and of those who walk on the ground. A boy – my father – doesn’t want to sleep. He is afraid the sun will never come up again in the morning. A few days before he passed away he called his friends, to announce he had already died. Does memory build who we are? Or were we built before memories?

The artist’s answer is an image, not a book. She gives a shape to the hole we hold inside for truths and dreams that vanish as we think of them. The image she has constructed is anchored in the same kind of impermanence: as if projected brush strokes would regenerate the very moment they appear. The video image is adapted to the gallery space by a computer program that keeps it visible, in real time, like a baton does with sounds, in a conductor’s hand.

No memory, no identity. “The vision of something for ever flying, forever escaping, is revealed, and time stands still.”* The current circulates in two rectangular volumes of movement. Clumps of light take a while to meet and split, as if driven by the secret desire to reconcile. Never the same combination of sparkles. They look like flames, but they are bodies, human bodies. Other tiny humans walk, scattered, all around the block of frenzy following the Euclidean patterns of our mind, a circle embracing the square.

Bas Jan Ader wanted to do a piece where he goes to the Alps and talks to a mountain. “The mountain will talk of things which are necessary and always true, and I shall talk of things which are sometime, accidentally true.”

Michal Rovner, I’m sure, talked to her white donkey. Her home is a countryside construction not far from Tel Aviv. Her family house made with stones, under a sun that splits the stones. The mountain under her feet is covered with chickens, two dogs, goats, tomatoes and eatable greens. Simple daily routines, smells, and changing colors through the current of the day shape and reshape her own sense of the big truths. But small and big must stay together. I’d like to believe it’s a feminine mark, it wouldn’t be true. “No ideas but in things,” was William Carlos Williams’ motto. By the end of the day, the stars fall from the sky, and Michal makes them human and walks into her art.

A keeper of the flame. “The poet thinks with his poem, in that lies his thought, and that in itself is the profundity.”** Rovner thinks with her visual work. She gathers feelings from History, keeps them burning, while her work lights them in other people.

Facing the version of Current Cross at Shoshana Wayne Gallery I instantly had a burst of tears, which turned into a violent crying. The monumental sculpture of human time, and the restless people joining and separating in two blocks, were the vibrating symbol of all the separations I’ve met in my life. My European and also Middle Eastern countries easily fall prey to civil wars and fraternal fights. Still they pay price to the ghosts of Empires and the blood of migrations.

But the artist has cleansed the battlefield: the big and the small, her personal way of clearing the space from chatting, and going to the bottom of the human condition, merge into the murmur of an indistinct crowd. My body became part of it as if I were water, until Michal gave a me a bunch of Kleenex.

*Virginia Woolf, The Common Reader; **William Carlos Williams, Paterson