When it comes to traditional representational carving, it would be difficult to equal the verisimilitude achieved by Martin Selman. Among his most recent works are a couple of crushed cans, a squashed plastic drink bottle, a cushion and a drawstring bag rumpled as only soft fabric can be. This illusion, of course, is the key to Selman’s expertise. These objects are not soft and malleable, they are carved out of cold, hard marble, but Selman’s expertise is such that he is a master of this art.
Selman’s work places him in the tradition of marble carving that has characterised Western art-making since the Renaissance. He uses the highest quality of marble, quarried near Carrara in Tuscany, Italy; the same stone sourced by Michelangelo in the late 15th century. Michelangelo valued carrara as a pure white marble that was not discoloured by the layers of sediment that created grey or brown ‘veins’ running irregularly and unexpectedly through a block of quarried stone. Such veining could wreak havoc with a commission and lead to a patron rejecting a portrait. (If, however, some colouration flowed through a piece of carved drapery, so much the better for a sculptor such as Bernini;. the colouristic effect could enhance a work carved in a flowing, dramatic Baroque style.)
Since the advent of early 20th century Modernism a more inclusive attitude has prevailed in the realm of marble carving. As sculpture evolved from an art of representational narrative into an exploration of the potential of materials, traditional constraints on forms and materials were blown away. While some carvers such as Brancusi, pared down their material into smooth abstracted forms, others turned to the lines and shapes of non-western art in their search for a distinctive style. When verisimilitude was wanted, artists such as Picasso and Duchamp turned to manufactured materials, and couldn’t resist a touch of humour in their engagement with their audience.
Martin Selman combines just such a range of Modernist approaches to art. He carves with the smooth precision of Brancusi – and he jolts us back to reality with the subjects and forms he chooses to represent. Not for him the generalised suggestion of a generic object; rather he chooses to replicate, in all its intricacy, the specific detail of his subject matter. In his portraiture works, he goes even further, seeking to imbue his subjects with individual characteristics that go beyond a straight forward representation of physical features. His interest in addressing the human subject has evolved from the carving of fragments of the body such as hands, arms and the random foot, that are peppered throughout his oeuvre.
Selman can literally turn his marble carving hand to any subject matter, from traditional portraiture to the more populist, even funky, articles and detritus of contemporary society. The common factor in this wide range of work is the artist’s precision of observation and quality of workmanship. In this he combines the best of the métier in which he works. All of Selman’s work is informed by a high level of technical expertise, ensuring that it appeals to a wide audience. This ranges from those with an appreciation of exquisite technical skill and accuracy of reproduction, to those who enjoy the artist’s sense of fun as he replicates all manner of objects in that most obdurate of media, marble.
Essay by Robin Woodward
Born: Birmingham, England
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Massey University, Palmerston North; Diploma of Visual Art and Design, Eastern Institute of Technology, Napier
Awards/Distinctions: Tutor, Sculpture Conference, Dornach, Switzerland; Tutor, Kunst Festival, Basel, Switzerland; Hawkes Bay Cultural Trust Sculpture Award – Winner (2001)
Collections: Hastings District Council; Woodford House, Havelock North; Healthcare Hawkes Bay; Waldorf Institute, Hawkes Bay
Public Exhibitions: Hawkes Bay Invitational, Hastings Exhibition Centre (2011, 2010, 2008, 2007); Shrunk, Brick Bay Sculpture Park, Auckland (2011, 2010); NZ Sculpture OnShore, Auckland (2010, 2008, 2006); Shapeshifter, The Dowse, Wellington (2010, 2008); Shapeshifter, Wellington (2006, 2004); Spellbound, The Dowse Art Museum, Wellington (2004)
Articles: ‘Fables, illusions and hard rock’ by Terry McNamara, The New Zealand Herald, Dec 2010; ‘The Heart of the Stone’ by Jane Warwick, BMW Magazine, 2008, Issue 3, pp 54-60
Artwork Featured in: The New Zealand Herald, Jan 2013