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Distinguished Abstract Expressionist Painter Charles Seliger Dies at 83
Charles Seliger in 2003 at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice, Italy. Photo: Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

NEW YORK, NY.- Charles Seliger, a distinguished abstract expressionist painter who played a vital role in the New York art scene for over sixty-five years, died on Thursday. He was 83 years old.

On October 1st, Charles Seliger suffered a massive stroke and died at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. He is survived by his wife Lenore, sons Robert and Mark, and grandchildren Alison and David. A memorial service will be scheduled. In January 2010, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery will mount an exhibition celebrating his life and art.

Charles Seliger (American, June 3, 1926-October 1, 2009) passionately pursued an inner world of organic abstraction, celebrating the structural complexities of natural forms. Like many artists of his generation, Seliger was deeply influenced by the surrealists’ use of automatism, and throughout his career, he cultivated an eloquent and poetic style of abstraction that explored the dynamics of order and chaos animating the celestial, geographical, and biological realms. Attracted to the internal structures of plants, insects, and other natural objects, and inspired by a wide range of literature in natural history, biology, and physics, Seliger paid homage to nature’s infinite variety in his abstractions. His paintings have been described as “microscopic views of the natural world,” and although the characterization is appropriate, his abstractions do not directly imitate nature so much as suggest its intrinsic structures.

Born in New York City but raised in Jersey City, Seliger spent his teenage years making frequent trips back across the Hudson to Manhattan’s many museum and gallery exhibitions. Although he never completed high school or received formal art training, Seliger immersed himself in the history of art and experimented with different painting styles including pointillism, cubism, and surrealism. In 19 43, he befriended Jimmy Ernst and was quickly drawn into the circle of avant-garde artists championed by Howard Putzel and Peggy Guggenheim. Two years later, at the age of nineteen, Seliger was included in Putzel’s groundbreaking exhibition A Problem for Critics at 67 Gallery, and he also had his first solo show at Guggenheim’s legendary gallery, Art of This Century. At the time, Seliger was the youngest artist exhibiting with members of the abstract expressionist movement, and he was only twenty years old when the Museum of Modern Art acquired his painting Natural History: Form within Rock (1946) for their permanent collection. In 1950, Seliger obtained representation from the prestigious Willard Gallery, owned by Marian Willard. He formed close friendships with several of her other artists, including Mark Tobey, Lyonel Feininger, and Norman Lewis.

By 1949, Seliger had his first major museum exhibition, at the de Young Memorial Museum, San Francisco. During his lifetime, he exhibited in over forty-five solo shows at prominent galleries in New York and abroad. In 1986, Seliger was given his first retrospective, at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, which now holds the largest collection of his work. His work is also represented in numerous museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York; the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut; and the British Museum in London. In 2003, at age seventy-seven, Seliger received the Pollock-Krasner Foundation’s Lee Krasner Award in recognition of his long and illustrious career in the arts. In 2005, the Morgan Library and Museum acquired his journals—148 hand-written volumes produced between 1952 and the present—making his introspective writing, which covers a vast range of topics across the span of six decades, accessible to art historians and scholars.

Seliger was best known for his meticulously detailed, small-scale abstractions as well as the techniques he invented and used to cover the surfaces of his Masonite panels—building up layers of acrylic paint, often sanding or scraping each layer to create texture, and then delineating the forms embedded in the layers of pigment with a fine brush or pen. This labor-intensive technique results in ethereal paintings that give expression to aspects of nature hidden from or invisible to the unaided eye. His talent and generous spirit will be missed.

Since 1990, Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, has been the exclusive representative of Charles Seliger.

Michael Rosenfeld Gallery | Charles Seliger | Abstract Expressionism |  |

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Distinguished Abstract Expressionist Painter Charles Seliger Dies at 83

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