I think of my process as improvisational, like jazz or dance. When I start to see the shapes in my drawing pushing and pulling, starting to read color, I begin painting.
- Judith Seligson
My focus is the space - or infinitesimal line - between things, as much as the things themselves. Neurons, like all cells, are discrete independent entities that also function together in a complex organism. These brain cells communicate with each other by firing neurotransmitters - like words in a conversation – across the synaptic gap between them. Scientists did not always know this.
- Judith Seligson
Judith Seligson and the Art of Matter
Anyone familiar with Judith Seligson knows the lengths she has taken to connect her vision and work to advancements in art history, psychology, philosophy, physiology, neurology, and physics, particularly quantum physics. At first, it might seem like a bit of a stretch.
What does theorizing about sub-atomic matter have to do with art, especially images which, at first glance, seem concerned with abstraction and color? Or what does the make up of our neurological systems have to do with the use of line or, for that matter, intermingled communities of words?
Seligson thinks a great deal about the "gap," a term widely associated with modernism-that philosophical movement which interrogated the foundational assumptions of formalism and initiated a great period of experimentation in the arts. Most obviously, modernism, resituated sites of authority from artists and their works to, in the case of the visual arts, the viewer. This shift essentially democratized the arts and opened up inquiry into the nature of art, identity, power, consciousness, essentialism, and, more recently, the implications of social and cultural construction.
The gaps in Seligson's art are obvious. They are lines between geometric shapes and colors, compositional pockets, and the geometric shapes themselves. Thus, the canvases are extremely dynamic, both moving the eye and allowing it to wander. One can easily ruminate on the implications of her shapes, lines, colors. and forms. They invite-as I think Seligson intends-reflection on the act of seeing, and seeing matter. Matter, as some quantum physicists insist, essentially disappears at the sub atomic level and is thought to become an "empty" space inhabited, perhaps, by energy only. This revolutionary idea is of great interest to physicists, obviously, but also to Seligson, who explores these empty spaces for what they might suggest about both seeing and representing reality, the idea that matter is not so much a manifestation of discrete forms but, rather, a field in which discrete forms do not exist. In Seligson's images, reality, then, is not something outside of ourselves, but something of which we are a part; it is a kind of perceptual field which is ordered by culture and structures of consciousness. In either case, reality is simultaneously objective and subjective, objective in that we "know" it by a kind of cultural consensus, but subjective, too, in that it is a physiological construct shared by but also unique to each and every one of us.
Seligson's images, then, anticipate new ways of thinking about, composing, and seeing our world-and they call into question even the walls, galleries, and domestic spaces in which they are hung.
John A. Haslem, Jr. PhD
Director, Center for Teaching and Learning
Judith Seligson is an artist living in New York City and Alexandria, Virginia. The core of her work is a vast series of geometric, abstract, hard-edged oil paintings, some very small, others enormous. Each painting begins with a graphite drawing defining the blocks of color. The artist then applies layers of diluted gesso, so she can see the push and pull of the shapes, while preventing the graphite from mixing with the paint. Ms. Seligson follows Matisse’s dictum that painting begins when the artist sees both the positive shape - the vase, for example - and the negative shape - the shape around the vase - simultaneously. Thus, she does not use tape or straight edge while painting.
Her work also extends to collage, graphite drawings, visual intertextuality, multi-media, videos, published articles, and pigment prints.
Her most recent show was a solo exhibition at Galérie Mourlot (New York) entitled Drawing the Line. In 2016, she had a solo show of 35 paintings The Athenaeum in the Washington, DC area entitled A Gap Frame of Mind. In March of the same year, she was in a exhibition of four contemporary geo-abstract painters at the Art 3 Gallery in Brooklyn.
Ms. Seligson's previous solo shows include the Jane Haslem Gallery in Washington, DC, Anita Friedman Fine Arts in NYC, and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. Group shows include Lillian Heidenberg Fine Art and Gary Snyder Fine Art, both in NYC. The artist has collaborated on a number of site- specific works with her husband, architect Allan Greenberg.
Ms. Seligson's forthcoming book, THE GAP: The Synaptic Sign of Modernity, is a 20-year project focusing on the space between things in art, science, and literature. She has given academic talks about The Gap paradigm at the Fourth International Henry James Society Conference, the American Literature Association Annual Meeting, and the 41st Annual Louisville Conference on Literature & Culture Since 1900. Her articles have been published in The Henry James Review, Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life, The Forward, and The Radcliffe Quarterly.
Ms. Seligson studied painting with Flora Natapoff, Philip Guston, Leo Manso, and Victor Candell. She is a graduate of Harvard/Radcliffe.
1952 Harvard/Ratcliff, BApublic collections
Library of Congress, Washington DC
Her art doesn’t flow, Judith Seligson insists. She has "A Gap Frame of Mind," which is the title of her exhibition at the Athenaeum and the subject of her upcoming book, which surveys science, psychology and literature, as well as visual art. In the Alexandria-based artist’s geometric abstractions, the existential breach between things — whether neurons or people — is represented by boundaries that divide blocks of color.
The paintings’ titles invoke artists Richard Diebenkorn and Piet Mondrian, but Seligson’s style is more reminiscent of those of Josef Albers and Frank Stella. Save for one text-based piece, all these pictures array hard-edged forms in mainly (but not exclusively) muted colors. Most divide rectangular fields into Euclidian subsidiary shapes, but some burst from the format with multiple overlapping, off-kilter panels.
There’s drama in the large gestures, such as the way a bright hue jumps from a panel to the adjacent one, but also in such almost-hidden features as a tiny, lime-green square nestled off-center in a large expanse. If Seligson’s approach is crisply mathematical, it doesn’t banish play.