Antonia Sellbach's work explores the depiction of coloured, serial frames which in their various iterations, expand and contract, and construct and deconstruct. The forms they create allow us to grapple with how we read meaning through an abstract image, the logic of what, where and why. For Sellbach, the repetition of limited forms allows for a language to emerge and it is within this syntax that abstract connections are made.


Antonia Sellbach has held exhibitions in Victoria and Tasmania since 2010, including solo exhibitions at Heide Museum of Modern Art (2016-17), BUS Projects Melbourne (2015), C3 Contemporary Art Space (2014) and Faculty Gallery, RMIT (2011). Her work has been included in group exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; RMIT Gallery, Melbourne; SVPA Gallery, University of Tasmania, Launceston; Counihan Gallery, Melbourne and Bundoora Homestead Art Gallery, Bundoora. Sellbach has an MA (Research) Fine Art and a BA (Hons 1) Fine Art from RMIT University, Melbourne. She is completing a practice-led PhD through the University of Tasmania. Sellbach is a Creative Arts lecturer at Melbourne Polytechnic and has led workshops at the National Gallery of Victoria (2018) and Heide Museum of Modern Art (2016-17). Her work has been featured in The Age, Belle, Vogue Italia, Inside, Est Magazine and Primer Magazine.





Upon reflecting the difficulties of translating the French author Hélène Cixous’ first book Tombe into English, Laurent Milesi[1] explains his use of formal punctuation in assisting the reader toward a more faithful picture of the original text. As an ‘infinite orchestration of ever-recombining motifs’[2] and a labyrinth of literary and sonic experimentation, Milesi approaches the text—newly Tomb(e) in English—using square brackets to offer explanatory notes and to alert the reader to the text’s ‘original cruxes’: the essence of what otherwise gets ‘lost in translation’.

Antonia Sellbach’s latest body of paintings from the Unstable Objects series takes heed of such a task. In these works—which form the final material outcome of a series of exhibitions as part of her practice-led PhD—we find an (in)formal infrastructure that is analogous in paint to that of Milesi’s brackets. In returning to an original interest in (and subsequent dissociation from) the frugal celebrations of German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher’s rectilinear Framework Houses (1959–1971), Sellbach creates her particular grammar of abstraction through the presence of transgressive ‘framing’ or ‘edge’ works within the paintings’ broader fields of relation.

In acknowledging paintings as zones of interaction between various actants, we can read Sellbach’s process as one of triangulation. The artist’s hand—in concert with a disciplined, cognitive drift [Dérive[4]] through operations of serial decision-making—is mediated through the application of a limited (by design) but potentially endless (by application) framing apparatus: a series of 3.5cm wide, rectilinear timber struts that function as visualisation props to anticipate particular ‘moves’ in the form of a commitment to paint on canvas. Applied as if engaging a processual game of jenga, or an experimental mathematics homework exercise, these narrow colour fields are built up to be subsequently, partially undone within no more than two additional moves; they are made visible and then either entirely or partially obscured as if plays of ‘addition’ and ‘subtraction’ ad infinitum until a certain equilibrium has been achieved. In giving form to these marks as a lexicon is to a language, this three-tiered negotiation process is what Sellbach considers to be the ‘yes’, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ logic of the works’ fundamental gestural advances.

These paintings are redolent of other framing apparatuses present in the world around us: the often obscured architectural scaffolding that allows an architectural structure into being; leaky linguistic categories that work to both contain and defy expressions of our identity; and this very exhibition as a mode of framing (by namesake and function) a much larger series of indeterminate, processual objects. Important to understand is that these paintings contain opaque fields of block-colour to both support (as in ‘prop up’) and demarcate (as in ‘mark out’) a series of middle-ground propositions that are central to the terrain of their ontology. As with Milesi’s brackets, the presence of Sellbach’s coloured struts function to offer a sense of before and after, of foreground and background and of a potential primary and ancillary text. Such an apparent, non-linear approach to the paintings’ own history of production is what the artist refers to as a chronology of ‘imagined timelines’: the perception of temporal frameworks that might ‘stack vertically, or loop and repeat’ to destabilise the notion of a ‘pure start or end point within both research and practice’.[5]

It is in marking out this terrain so evidently, yet with no clear pathway as to where we are being persuaded to read the stress as falling, that Sellbach reinforces the game-like qualities of these works. Is the artist, for example, asking us to focus in or around these highly keyed frames as brackets? Or, are we rather being encouraged towards a polysemous reading in and across and between, or even in negation of, the anti-restraint of their attendance?

An instinctive reading would return to us the opaque areas as fortified and confident (leaping forward), with the mid-ground, milky white fields being in a state of vulnerable, near-absent ambivalence (receding away from us). As if prompts from an afterlife (but actually from a before time), there is a tendency to seek out ghostly residuals of these marks; they are a kind of ‘sous rature’—what Martin Heidegger refers to as the philosophical strategy of legibly crossing out words—as if a game of hide and seek, signalling to us that there is more to this vocabulary than first meets the eye.

The uncertainty of such prompts is what is most at play in these works, and, I would argue, what is most interesting about processes of translation—whether between differently spoken writers or in the formulating of a visual language between an artist and her audience. It is the crux, to borrow Milesi’s own figuration, that is being bracketed off as a means of relating back into the essence of what these paintings are suggesting to us: that the simultaneous, partial concealment and leaking of a middle-ground proposition that is present but not fully formed, that is blurry and edged but not hard-edged, is precisely where the stuff of life resides.


Abbra Kotlarczyk

 is an artist, writer, editor and sometimes curator based in Naarm/Melbourne.

[1] Hélène Cixous, 2014, Tomb(e), (Trans. Laurent Milesi), Seagull Books,  p. viii.

[2] ibid.

[3] ibid.

[4] The French translation of ‘drift’ here references Guy Debord’s 1956 Theory of the Dérive in which he proposed the Dérive as a mode of unplanned travel through a landscape (notably an urban one) in attainment of more free and objective encounters with the terrain. By situating this translation in apropos to Sellbach’s painterly process, there is a sense in which her own tendency to drift can be explained by such simultaneously intuitive and yet limited forms of ‘moving through’.

[5] from Antonia Sellbach email correspondence, June 2019.