Victoria Selbach: Painting With Emotional Layers

Victoria Selbach is a contemporary artist based in New York that caught my eye a few years ago due to her life size nude paintings and the powerful nature they embodied. There is a definite sense of femininity in her work yet the way Victoria combines detailed and symbolic collage work makes the audience wonder how pure her paintings truly are. There are many layers that lie deep beneath the surface of Victoria’s work and I was intrigued to learn more about her approach to each piece.

Can you kindly tell our readers how you choose your subject matter and why you are drawn to painting nudes?

If you had asked me that question a few years ago I could have given a simpler answer. I have always chosen to paint women that I am in awe of, women that I respect and believe should be celebrated. I’m drawn to women at ease and radiant in their own skin, owning their vulnerability as well as their immense power. Painting these women has brought me closer to understanding our complexity, how we see ourselves, and the absurdity of cultural perspectives. Why nude? Because the work is seeing and celebrating women as they honestly are, without pretense or embellishment.

Then the socio-political shockwaves of the last two years sent me on a new quest. I am compelled by the questions, ‘who are we’ and ‘how did we get where we are today’. I needed to open the lens beyond seeing dynamic individuals in order to begin to understand our connectivity and complicity. I backed up and started close to home. The Generational Tapestry series excavates the lived feminine experiences of my foremothers. It is my way to begin to understand the lives of my grandmother’s, how they informed our mothers generation, what we now carry and how we in turn pass this legacy on to our daughters.

Please speak about the many physical layers you surround them in and how you choose your background imagery.

The foundation of each Generational Tapestry panel is an assemblage of my grandmothers personal handicrafts and keepsakes; cherished items they held onto for decades, long after their usefulness had past. These icons, that clearly defined aspects of their self identity, begin to tell a story. Each panel addresses, often with the convergence of strange bedfellows, a unique aspect of their lived feminine experience. A surface is raised above each collage to support the figure of a young woman. She is literally built on the legacy of those who came before.


Is there something you can share with me that you have not told any other journalist before regarding your artwork?

The secret of this new series is that the overall prettiness belies the covert intent. The work can be interpreted differently depending on the viewer’s perspective and how deep they dig.

For instance buried within the pristine sheets of Relinquishing Her Name are the pastel totems that haunt her marital ‘bed’. Cultural pronouncements, expectations and the fairy tales we are nursed on certainly color our desires while casting a mold that is difficult to rectify with our realities.

The Stories We’re Told conjures the age old conflict between the ideals of purity and the darkness associated with the earthiness of nature. One might only see a pretty picture but to me it speaks of how valuing solely the feminine ideal of purity robs women of the vastness of human experience, denies women autonomy and their full natural potential, and inhibits the rich mastery of fully knowing all that tapping into the wellspring of our nature affords.

After generations of ‘Don’t get dirty’, ‘Don’t run’, ‘Keep you knees together’, ‘Lower your voice’, ‘Button up your shirt’, ‘Don’t complain’, ‘Don’t cause problems’, ‘Don’t embarrass yourself’, ‘Pull your skirt down’, ‘Don’t make a mess’, ‘Watch what you say’, ‘Don’t lose your temper’, ‘Be polite,’ ‘Don’t show off’, ‘Keep your shoes clean’, ‘Mind your manners’, ‘Don’t be fresh’, ‘Be quiet’, be small, be delicate, ‘Behave’, it is up to the next generation of women to dispel the fallacy that all that is good is pure, is white, is light, is delicate, is soft spoken, is pretty.


Do you have a specific piece that was especially hard to part with and why?

I normally like to live with each new piece a while, to savor it, before it goes out into the world. As you can imagine even more so with this series. Each Generational Tapestry piece has so much to digest and they are very personal and resonant to me. The first Generational Tapestry piece to leave the studio was Mothers Garden Of Verses. Since it went straight from the easel out the door it left me a bit breathless. Yet I couldn’t be happier that it has found it’s perfect home and I’m confident it will be cherished for generations.

What piece are you most proud of painting?

While creating Mothers Garden Of Verses I actually felt like I accomplished something. I felt like an anthropologist who had been theorizing and finally shined a light on something concrete and undeniable. Mother’s Garden Of Verses began as an exploration of the role women play when reading to their children; their powerful impact on transmitting culture and molding the identity of future generations. The books I uncovered jarred the impact and meaning of the panel. Dusting off Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Childs Garden of Verses, with it’s blatant sentiments of bigotry, uncovered poems that cavalierly point out the ‘other’ as lesser. It was like shining a light on a tome that was built to reinforce the idea of privilege and supremacy in generations of children. Unearthing coercive doctrine from the Childs prayerbook, Jesus Make Me Worthy and the ‘you are of the chosen people’ style teachings in I’d Like You To Meet My Family forces us to acknowledge that this is what many were teethed on. While the pages opened a window into how a sense of place, privilege, superiority and bias can be deeply ingrained in text and taught to future generations it more importantly asserted the power women hold in their hands to shape cultural norms before passing them on to their children. I will be forever grateful to my mother and my grandmothers. This role of the young mother, as the filter and conduit, is profound and profoundly challenging. The actual young woman depicted in Mothers Garden Of Verses above the collage was chosen for her incredible light and the vision she shares well beyond her family. In the hands of her generation resides the possibility of a bright future.

If you could collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be with and why?

I dream of collaborating on a feminist exhibition. Not with just one artist. Not where we put our hands together to create the same piece. But rather I am envisioning a room where each voice holds it’s own space, makes a big statement and together they resonate to bring the walls down. I am building a short mental roster of artists who are using their gorgeous craft to speak in a clear and forceful way. Together we can crack open change.

Are there any upcoming shows or bodies of new work to be shown soon?

Relinquishing Her Name will be presented in the PoetsArtists exhibition, Visions of Venus/Venus’ Visions, at the Zhou B Art Center in Chicago. poetsandartists.com/visionsofvenuspoetsartists The exhibition, curated by Dr. Elaine Melotti Schmidt, opens Friday, April 20, 2018. Dr Schmidt and her husband, Steven Allen Bennett are passionate collectors and patrons of women artists. Your readers may be interested in looking into The Bennett Prize which is just now taking submissions for its first year. Their $3 million endowment at The Pittsburgh Foundation ensures that the $50,000 prize will be awarded to an emerging female artist every two years in perpetuity thebennettprize.org.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently working on the third piece of a small vignette based on ‘comic culture’. Comic book covers to me are an iconic stand in for the patriarchy. The first piece, Hero, depicts a strong female figure rising above the legacy of white male superheroes. My muse is Mashonda Tifrere, the founder of ArtLeadHer and one of my personal super-heroines. The second, ‘Shatter’ shows a woman with a calm presence breaking through the legacy of rape culture and comic cultures depictions of females. The third piece is taking me quite a while to execute as it incorporates sculptural elements, icons that lift off the surface of the work. The working title is Bada-Boom! It’s definitely the most political of the three. I look forward to having a chance to show it to you once it is complete.

What is next for you?

I’ve been diving for a while into the research for my next big project; working with women, hearing their stories and collecting material for images and mixed media execution. Rather than attack this one piece at a time I’m building a web of knowledge and understanding before the execution begins. The series will be driven by individual women’s stories of how they see their own sexuality. The stories they rarely share. The complex realities they know to be true about themselves but rarely wear on their sleeve.

Where can our readers learn more about both you and your work?

An archive of my work is available at victoriaselbach.com , you can follow me @vicselbach or come to the studio for a visit.


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