Selma Parlour

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Notes on Practice


Notes on Practice

These works reflect my interest in painting's in/extrinsic conventions. Central to my invented vocabulary are: the frame; flatness; surface; transparency and trompe l’oeil illusion; bands and units of isolated colour; repetition (with variation and displacement); frontality and the singularly-framed and fixed view; the flattened-out cavity and depicting space; and the re-presentation of art and context.

The paintings are meticulously rendered through soft films of oil on linen. My delicate surfaces reveal no visible traces of painterly technique, instead they appear as though drawn or printed. The method of colour application involves the extraction of the oil binder so that colour-texture is parched like chalk pastel. The effect is a warm, tactile surface where colour is a veil (not a skin) and each decision is apparent. The literal transparency of colour borrows from the white primer beneath so that colour glows, as if lit from behind. This backlit quality is reminiscent of the screen, and we are reminded of painting’s social function as a window to another world, a stage space penetrable only with our eyes.



Selected Reviews

[The area of cadmium yellow in Eleventh hour squared 3] could describe a section of wall above what could be read as a window, or rather the top left corner of a window, or maybe instead, a quadrant of a pyramid in bird's eye view. Alternatively, it's a yellow truncated triangle in an arrangement of coloured geometric or architectural shapes on a flat surface. Reading Eleventh Hour Squared 3, (2016), as a flat surface becomes more difficult the more that shadows are perceived and the more the luminous blue square is perceived as sky through a window pane flanked by a brown frame, the primary image that I keep settling upon, until the pyramid reasserts itself. But then I am puzzled by the sense of this being a corner or a quadrant. In what context might one see only this part of either a pyramid or a window? Photography comes to mind, the camera frame characteristically cropping objects in this way. And there is something about the colour quality, thinly applied hues, with the white surface behind giving them brilliance, which is reminiscent of a photograph or a computer screen. The paint application, transparent films of oil paint, with no visible traces of the artist's toil, also lends itself to this interpretation. If photography is "drawing with light", then Parlour's paintings are closely akin to photography. However, they are ultimately abstract because figurative interpretations, like the ones suggested above never quite work enough to arrive at definite conclusions. What might have been perceived as a window frame probably works best if seen as a picture of a painting, this one. Similarly in Cloud II, (2017), although there is more of a depicted space, a kind of stage within which objects are situated, the objects are like paintings within a painting. In Parlour's work it is as if the hint at referential content is always self-referential, always bringing us back to the painting itself. There may also be references to the history of abstraction, specifically post-painterly abstraction, or colour field painting, if not in the scale of the works, then in the artist's choice of technique, in which the method of production is hidden by the method of production itself, the labour painted out or sublimated. – Andy Parkinson, 'Nine Painters, Syson Gallery, Nottingham', Patterns that Connect, 26th April 2017


On entering this year’s prize, we are met with a small but powerful painting, One, The Side-ness of In-Out by Selma Parlour, dominated by architectural language. Parlour presents an ambiguous, graphic scene that could be interpreted as looking through a segmented frame. Formally it is reminiscent of skirting boards and cornicing, suggesting diverse origins such as Victorian architecture and modern high rise buildings. Shapes are very clearly delineated in a limited, bold colour palette, with little evidence of brushstrokes, with a smooth, flat surface through layers of glaze.  This smooth exterior contributes to the ambiguity in the work, as we are left wondering if the frame is a window, and how are we positioned in relation to it –  is it a room or gallery, a street or square? – Jenny Steele, 'John Moores Painting Prize 2016', A-N, 30th September 2016


[...] 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 [sic] 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, 'A Diverse Selection', John Moores Painting Prize 2016, catalogue essay, 9th July 2016


Selma Parlour’s haunted paintings hover with retinal disparity across the space. The luminous synchronicity, in this case, operates through our intrusion into a private world, where a parallel dimension may exist. The colour shifts in the multiple framing of each composition are exact, and build a system that is modulated through the tonal colour bleeds. In One for each eye 4, each successive colour - cobalt violet, manganese blue, viridian green and brown /ochre - alter the perception of the retinal spatialisation. Here the space between the eyes, which allows binocular vision (the angle from which each eye views an object) creates the imperfect match with its counterpart, a yellow multi-toned field of colour. These paintings are shimmering, intense objects, and their emptiness allows the other works in the space to breathe. – Laurence Noga, ‘Kaleiodscope at Fold Gallery, London’, Saturation Point, 21st August 2016  


In delicate, precise paintings referencing iconic architectural geometries, Parlour’s canvases are cosmic windows that compress time to merge the forms of present and past. – Cathryn Drake, 'For Love or Money', Artforum, 4th July 2015


The work in this show is quiet, contemplative and often very satisfying. Take Selma Parlour, for instance. Painted in thin washes of oil on linen, Room consists of a nest of squares flanked by trapeziums to create an illusion of depth, while acknowledging the flatness of the canvas. It allows the picture to be read as a flat surface, a box, a truncated pyramid or all three. The game is as old as painting itself, but Parlour’s handling is perfect. A series of extremely subtle colours – mainly warm browns and soft greens plus the white of the ground – have been applied with the exactitude of an illuminator decorating a manuscript. The results are as pleasing as a perfect equation and the acronym QED (quod erat demonstrandum), usually appended to the proof of a theorem, would not be inappropriate. – Sarah Kent, 'Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2011', The Arts Desk, 28th November 2011