Installation views


'Selma Parlour', Pi Artworks, London, April 2018

50-page monograph with essay by Sacha Craddock (below) and interview with Jessica Ziskind







Parlour's paintings carry colour without volume. Maintaining a relation to printmaking, the build-up is tonal, stained, almost as if in a photograph, with the sense of hands off as well as hands on. A layered levelling of colour, where the artist appears to have pulled the canvas, as if a shroud, out of liquid in a gesture of reversed negativity. Material is born from light, which attaches and embeds itself on the surface and, yet, something seems to permeate from behind. Paint, as material, has been banished from view to become a layered, thinned, subliminal notion. Diluted and dilated, it has long been absorbed into the thought process of the artist.

But artists need rules and Parlour maintains her own court and jury. Sticking to notions that produce effect, she repeats colour, makes corners with tone that are still shallow. She seems to find movement through walls impossible, and so there is no real pretence or illusion. You cannot see far or deep but sight is sent along its way, to pursue a mimicry of architectural exactitude. Light, like that in a painting by Fra Angelico on the wall of a cell in San Marco, Florence, shows structure or message, caught in the paint that remains. Narrative is orchestrated and speech flows not through but around the corner, and out into a particular architectural reality. But this is to do with touch, with the surface, with knowing that sense is never purely visual. The canvas flattens and brings touch together with unsighted glance.

Colour lies in an afterglow or in an echo of something seen more than once and remembered. Layers of colour pool at the literal edge. The quality of grey, blue or purple carries great intelligence, for it seems to have arrived in this world fixed and not worked out through any apparent process of mixing. Parlour's repetition of vision allows calm understanding rather than any anticipated experience. A range of associations must be indulged; the relation to print must be understood. How does the graphic quality of the 20th century transport itself to now? Where is this manifestation of information; is the actual vehicle the surface of a page, the publication laid open, perhaps, a book or magazine?

At this point, information on possible architectural detail – this could be the corner of a room, for instance – becomes abstract, pure and descriptive, at the same time. Parlour alludes to depth, with the sharp-edged distinction between the image of a notice board so subtle that the actual message is sunk into the place where it is held. A letter tucked into the shallow depth of braid, button and baize, is a formal element. Classic trompe l'oeil is about shallow space, the repository for idea and thought. Parlour allows, with finesse and attention, the tooth of the linen to become the actual beat of the moment and detail; she uses cross weave as pixelation. While sight knows and shifts, the grain of the surface resonates with an unconscious understanding.

One colour is able to sit next to another with the structured, fine barrier between. From Romanesque mural painting, across the apse of Sant Climent de Taüll (now in the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona), through to illuminated manuscript, the movement between freeze frames has the effect of an almost comic-book narrative, and an implication of a change of depth is achieved simply by colours sitting alongside each other. Here, the illusion is not in the barrier between the place at which one element comes to another, but in the colour, which is not logical either.

What a painting can achieve is a matter of dispute. For many, there is little that can be done with the thing itself; for others, it is capable and strong within its own language. Abstraction can be fascinating because a work can be further questioned, extended, embellished – and then also dismissed. Parlour has, through her fascination with installation and context, moved between asking the work to inhabit real space – in order to continue the metaphor, style, emphasis, and manner of a particular context – and expecting the work to provide its own place, architecture and context. The role of this fluidity in Parlour's work extends further than Rothko, for instance, aware of the fact that his paintings would be the main feature of an expensive restaurant, or Léger, who had planned a chapel all along. It is not what the paintings lend a place that Parlour is concerned about, but what they project onto it or draw back towards themselves.

Is there an ambiguity of scale; does that age-old support for abstract painting apply? Could it be a pond, lake or sea, seen from a mountain, hill or tussock? Is this a matter of fakery, of shallow scenery, which, in itself, implies layers of make up? We deal with proportion and focus, looking into either a doll's house, or a palace. Is the illusion closer to relief, to the fact that everything is relative rather than real? The vision can be prismatic, at times: the sense is of permutations of colour as well as perfunctory shifts in detail.

Could it be more, less, or none of that? Parlour uses arrows to tell you where to go next with the eye. A range of almost virtual signs is used. If you look into the shallow space, then bounce back out again, the corner and walls come away. In France, fabric is still used, on occasion, stretched over walls instead of wallpaper; do Parlour's painted walls on canvas arrive at the equivalent: a self-fulfilling prophecy? The boy with the Saxa salt holder pours salt on the tail of the bird, ad infinitum.

Flank II (2017) links to photography in terms of surface and glare. Echoes of blue and blue, both independent. Parlour makes clear that this is not free from invention: the lines seem rational, real even. It is all about knowing what you have here, reading the contradictions. A break in the painting, an arrow, suggests that the top section is, in its way, elsewhere. The reference, with a light ridge of fine graphic excellence, touches on the detail of a ceiling in a mid-Modern construction, perhaps, or more humble quarters a century earlier. Neither too decorative nor over-elaborate, the positioning is, rather, perfect, as it apportions out space. – Copyright Sacha Craddock, December 2017




Flank II (2017) oil on linen, 86.5cm x 86.5cm





'Make a Mark', Barry Bliss, July 2017

In memory of Gerda Taro, Barry Bliss photographs 30 women painters with a Leica II camera


As a woman, I am on the back foot. As a painter, I am too late. And so the story goes. – SP







'John Moores Painting Prize 2016', National Museums Liverpool, July 2016

Essay by Richard Davey



[...] Parlour begins with colour, her use of thin, transparent glazes allowing the woven surface of the canvas to remain visible, whilst giving the work an inner translucent glow. The division of the canvas horizontally creates an horizon line to suggest distance and space. This sense of depth is reinforced by the shadowy smudge that shades each of her lines. Along the top and right hand edges a broad blue frame holds the space in and flattens it out, creating the impression of a painting within a painting. But the frame is incomplete, and the two diagonal lines that terminate each side converge towards a vanishing point, turning the frame into a proscenium arch and the painting into a stage. The actors on this stage, or the subjects of this painting, are two four-sided shapes: a trapezium, whose converging sides draw the eye in, and a quadrilateral, which seems to fold over towards the viewer. The trapezium appears flat, the quadrilateral freestanding and solid. They reinforce the sense of three-dimensional space, but they also disrupt it. The blue frame suggests we are looking at the space head on, yet the trapezium only reads as a painting on a wall if we imagine ourselves looking down on it from above. The quadrilateral doesn't really work from either of these positions. Parlour's pictorial space is impossible. It breaks all the rules and confounds all expectations, demanding to be read from multiple perspectives rather than a single viewpoint. – Richard Davey




'100 Painters of Tomorrow', Thames and Hudson, London, September 2014

International competition and publication selected by Kurt Beers, Cecily Brown, Tony Godfrey, Yuko Hasegawa, Suzanne Hudson, Jacky Klein, Gregor Muir, Valeria Napoleone, Barry Schwabsky and Philip Tinari



It is a testament to the authority of the medium that sometimes the most minimal paintings are the most powerful. [...] Parlour draws upon a rich lineage of mimimalist art. [...] Her delicate, translucent painting offers a suggestion of a back-story for each work, tantalizing the viewer with withheld information. This notion is crucial for Parlour who considers illusion and the limitations of painting to be central themes in her work. [...] The simultaneous creation and negation of space are significant in Parlour's work. Through geometry and isolated two-dimensional forms, she crafts stage-like settings that mingle foreground and backgroud and imbue a sense of spatial confusion. Her interest lies in 'painting that questions its historical constraints to re-frame itself through invented vocabulary and abstract space'. However, her artificial spaces hold more than mere aesthetic interest; they are a means through which Parlour can emphasize the greater possibilities of painting as a tool for interrogation and communication. – Kurt Beers




© Selma Parlour 2019