Museum 52 are delighted to present the first New York solo show for Frank Selby. His meticulous paintings and drawings explore the notion of the subject within an image. The exhibition focuses on found Civil War imagery. These images are used as the initial source for Selby’s artwork.
Selby is intrigued by how this war, the first war to be photographed to a great extent, was depicted. Looking at more recent conflict, he highlights Baudrillard’s proposition that the first Gulf War did not take place except on television. It is suggested that there were many more “battles” shown on television than actually happened; it is believed by some that fewer American soldiers died in combat than would have died in traffic accidents had they stayed home. Baudrillard believed that this constituted the reality of the conflict: a televised hyper-reality.
Selby found that despite the prevalence of Civil War imagery only one battle was caught on film and this was from a great distance. The rest of the photographs retrieved from the period depict the after effects of the atrocities; mundane and serene images of people, buildings etceteras that could be anywhere but are part of that historical narrative. As with the Gulf War, our perception of the Civil War was altered because many of the images were manipulated. In one series discovered by the artist, a photographer had dragged a body from one scene to the next in order to achieve some dramatic effect. Selby is interested in this simultaneous presence and absence of the subject; the event is both real and unreal.
This notion of the manipulated subject or event, one that is simultaneously present and absent, is at the core of Selby’s work. He manifests this through direct representations, suggestions, or manipulated presentations of reflection. Reflection is the ultimate signifier of an absent presence; something both within and without the real. In Up South Down North, 2008 Selby has taken an image of a forest ripped by explosions and dusted with remnants of battle. The image is manipulated on a computer to mirror it so the appearance is like that of a mirror on a ceiling. It is reproduced in detail with water-based oil paint on polyester. The painting literally realigns ordinary orientation, something inherent to reflection. In contrast Monumentnemunom, 2008 is less direct. The ink drawing accurately depicts a monument in the form of an arch, built for Civil War victims. The structure is symmetrical, suggestive of reflection rather than directly depicting it.
The idea of reflection is linked to Selby’s interest in the truthful presence of the real in photography. For him images are something that can be reproduced and fragmented, thus becoming further from their truthful origins, stimulating the hyper-real. Selby questions whether the subject is ever truly in a photographic image, and through his manipulations emphasises the ease with which this departure is made.
Selby recently exhibited Horses, a project at John Connelly Presents, New York. He has exhibited widely, featured in shows on both the East and West coasts as well as the UK. Selby was the recipient of the residency in Monsanto, Portugal sponsored by the Centro Cultural Raiano. He is included in collections internationally.