Frank Selby at SECCA

It’s my birthday today, and what better birthday present for a drawing major than to go to SECCA in Winston-Salem (a very short drive from Guilford) and see an exhibit from a Salisbury, NC based fellow graphite enthusiast? Frank Selby’s exhibit, Misunderstanding, is a drawing major’s dream, full of beautifully rendered pencil works. Selby takes historical photos and recreates them to his liking, making it his own, creating a brand new image with lots to say. Although Selby told PBS’ North Carolina Weekend, “I don’t think [meaning] really exists to begin with…and that’s sort of a jumping-off point for me. I’m just trying to start with the notion that the photograph doesn’t possess that meaning, and try to get people to take that trip with me,” I believe these images are quite intellectually fascinating.

Take, for example, the piece titled “Teargas, Teargas.” It is a graphite on mylar piece that takes on the appearance of a rather old newspaper picture. I see the focal point to be the police officer in the front with the gasmask. This figure is much clearer than the others. The teargas “smoke” that flows throughout the piece creates a circular vaporous movement that takes the viewer from the upper left corner, down, around, and in between figures, and continues out the right side of the piece. Exceptional linework overlaps, intertwines, fades, and defines all at once. I am really intrigued by the wispy whites of the gas and how the organic shapes formed by it contrast with the darker values of the rest of the piece. I get a chaotic feeling from the literal sense of what’s going on in the action of the work, but from an aesthetic viewpoint, it is very calming to try and retrace Selby’s steps and get caught up in his artistic decisions. Selby says that meaning doesn’t exist – but indulge me, follow me along my interpretation. There are bits of the piece that are more faded, like a very old photograph, or like something that was left unfinished intentionally. The viewer takes part in this scene by playing the witness. There are many viewers, and therefore many witnesses to this teargas event. If there are many witnesses, there are bound to be many viewpoints. Trying to mesh a conglomeration of differing viewpoints would result in a mental image that looks very much like a faded, old, unfinished drawing. Now imagine trying to create, say, a news story on an occurrence that looks like this…would be kinda hard, right?  I see this piece as a response to the ever-exaggerating nature of news coverage of cultural events. You’ll never know what really happened unless you were there, and sometimes, as any psychology textbook would dutifully inform you, even seeing it with your own two eyes isn’t always reliable.
I really like this piece. Yes,  it’s because I’m a drawing major and I get a little carried away when it comes to my graphite, but it’s also because of the challenge Frank Selby has left us as viewers to ponder – There may not be a meaning, but try to find one anyway.

Picture from and also available on SECCA's website.
Picture from and also available on SECCA’s website.


For more information on the Misunderstanding exhibit, CLICK HERE! The video of PBS North Carolina Weekend is also available there.
The exhibit is open until February 10, 2013.

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