About Joel Selmeier

To be really accurate, I suppose I would call myself an abstract expressionist, but nonrepresentational abstract art in general, in its purest form, would not give a name to each work, only a number. It would not perpetrate what art appreciation classes, and even practical art classes, have lead us to – for one thing the idea that depth and meaning are beyond the uneducated person’s ability to discern. To me it seems harder to reach the educated person because of the intellectualizing that kind of training provokes.

Frequently I am asked what a work means or symbolizes. Often the best response I can give is that I felt something and tried to express it visually. I rarely ask if the person felt anything on first glance, even though that is what I care about. Did the form and substance, by themselves, cause any thought or feeling before trained mental processes had time to kick in?

To me artists’ statements compound this confounding process both for the artist and the viewer. Naming works of art is problematic too, but so far I buck the current milieu only so far – like talking about my process. That is not as destructive as an artist’s statement or the lesser problem of naming each work, and currently we are supposed to. So . . . 

​”An artist cannot talk about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture.” – Jean Cocteau

I’m going to try.


My Process?

Here is an example from cooking. I was telling my brother that I had discovered that if you slice an off-season, but fresh, tomato into 1/3 inch thick slices and sear one side of them briefly, perhaps with a pinch of salt and sugar on that side, being careful not to warm it all the way through, it will have a more full and robust flavor. 

It still isn’t like a vine ripe tomato from a field in August, but it’s an improvement.

He asked how I thought of that.

I told him that I had been listening to the food show “Splendid Table” on Public Radio. They said people are too afraid of cooking cucumbers. They said to sear one side briefly. The next time I was in my kitchen with time to be creative, I tried it and didn’t like it. 

Copper bird with olive branch

But there I was with a little butter and Canola oil in a hot skillet, and an off-season tomato sitting on the cutting board. Off season tomatoes always are a little disappointing. I wondered if heat would help. It did. Searing one side slightly and leaving the other cool gave them a more robust flavor, and was a thought worth working with on other things in the kitchen. That’s my process.

Same in my studio/shop

​Midst metal-working tools while working on a piece, or looking at one just finished, I’m never satisfied. I always want it to say more, have more depth, and feel more like what I was feeling when I first thought about it. I look at the surrounding tools and materials wondering what might help. 

In the same way that I put the cucumber aside, I move the current work out of the way, taking what I learned from it and trying something new.

At least that is one thing that happens in a process that has many other phases, like when I am at my desk trying to sketch realizable versions of impossible imaginings.

Part of why it is difficult for me to talk about my process is that I don’t think about it. I just do it. Some people want to know what was in an artist’s mind, how the artist got from waking up one morning with a blank canvass (I wake up with a crowded one) and ended up a couple of months later with metal wrought into something that spoke to them. For me the best articulation of my process is this line from Chuck Close. 

“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work,”

– Chuck Close