the neon gods I made

Rolf Sellmann has repeatedly used the creative potential of chance to forge new paths in his paintings, to leave behind the well-worn paths of the diverse “isms” of modern art and to cut new swaths through the visual thicket, most recently in his series whatever remains. In his next series of works the neon gods I made he develops the principle further, taking it in an inspired way to the logical next step and without shying away from garish effects.

Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue? is the title of a famous painting by Barnett Newman, who in this way declared perceiving primary colors as a test of courage. Sellmann’s series could be called “Who’s Afraid of Neon Color,” and the fear in this case would be more grounded than in the case of the American color-field painter Newman, for the neon colors in the abstract paintings and objects of the Berlin artist exude such a lurid, even harsh impact that one involuntarily steps two, three steps back from them, so intense, so virtually physical is the glowing power of the works.

But Sellmann decided on a different title, an altered line from a Simon and Garfunkel song. From the classic song “The Sound of Silence,” he borrowed his title from the lines “and the people bowed and prayed/to the neon god they made.” Does this mean that Sellmann understands his paintings as idolatry, because he gave the series the title the neon gods I made? Certainly not.

While an idol, the representation of a divinity in a cultically worshipped visual work does attract the gaze toward it in a magical way, this kind of perception blinds out the truth and leads us astray.

Art differs here in that it seeks to expand our perception and in this way to free us, as it were. In the works from the series the neon gods I made at issue is primarily a liberation from the routine of seeing. In a first step, the artist applies just a few colors with differently sized brushes (sometimes just one) to monochromatically primed canvases. Sometimes the margins are drawn in, creating the impression that at issue are objects and not paintings. In so doing, the application of color is intuitive and dynamic. This raw state is treated with a permanent marker in a second step and emphasized. In so doing, Sellmann combined two basic strategies of modern art and makes a unified process out of it. It’s about the notions of automatism, which the surrealists in particular used to give their art spontaneity, and controlled composition, where each brushstroke is a conscious placement. In a certain sense, a squaring of the circle. That the series the neon gods I made seems to come from a single cast speaks for the practicability of this “idolatry” with signal colors.
  • disintegration; 120 x 100 x 4 cm; MT auf LW, 2019
  • l.o.p.3; 120 x 100 x 4 cm; MT auf LW, 2019
  • l.o.p. pink sm 1; 50 x 40 x 4 cm; MT auf LW; 2019
    l.o.p. pink sm 1
  • n.g.b. 2; side view; MT auf MDF; 30 x 30 x 4 cm; 2019
    n.g.b. 2