the grey curtain project
An art anecdote from antiquity reports of the competition between two Greek painters, Zeuxis and Parrhasius. While Zeuxis presented as evidence of his mastery that the grapes he paints look so real that even birds try to pick at them, Parrhasius went a step further: he painted a curtain in such a realistic way that Zeuxis wanted to push away the curtain to view the image behind it.
The story is one of to the most popular topoi used to describe the illusionist magic of painting. In Dutch Baroque painting in particular, the painted curtain plays a prominent role, for example, in Rembrandt’s painting The Holy Family with a Curtain, where the drawn drapery reveals a scene of Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child.
In the paintings from Rolf Sellmann’s series the grey curtain in contrast, the (closed) curtain has abandoned its auxiliary role. The piece of fabric shown here does not conceal anything behind it: instead, it itself is the staged event, exploring the nuances of shading. Within a certain consciously limited spectrum of color—grey/blue, almost monochromatic—the subtle gradations of chiaroscuro painting develop.
Light and shadow model the heavy fabric that sways back and forth, that bundles or collapses, and bright lights fall against its dark backdrop. The varied shadings of the grey curtain paintings, rich in variation, can be examined extensively without one becoming bored.
But for those not satisfied with that alone, those who need the ennoblement of art theory, can place Rolf Sellman’s paintings in a genealogy with Gertrude Stein’s famous line: “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose”— curtain is a curtain is a curtain is a curtain . . .