Roman Selsky (1903-1990) a prominent painter and art professor from Lvov. The artist’s more than 60-year-long creative career is marked by hard work and broad artistic interests. Among his creations are landscapes, still-lifes, portraits, subject painting, decorative compositions, drawings, appliqué and ceramics. Landscape and still-life were the artist’s favourites, through which he revealed the best of his talent.
The artist was born on May 21, 1903 in the town of Sokal (now Lvov Region), so his life was inseparably linked with Lvov where Selsky’s family moved soon after his birth. In 1918, 15-year-old Roman enrolled at the Free Academy of Fine Arts and studied there on and off for four years. Early in his career, the schooling received at the Academy proved useful to the artist. His work was greatly influenced by Olexa Novakivsky who was Lvov’s most famous artist of the period. He made improvements and corrections to Selsky’s drawings and sketches.
In 1921 Selsky studied at the Industrial School, the only specialized educational establishment in Lvov; in 1922 he continued his education at the Cracow Academy of Fine Arts, at Professor Julian Mehoffer’s class.
In 1924 Selsky joined the studio of Jôsef Pankiewicz, a well-known Polish follower of the Impressionists who influenced Selsky’s creative career to a great extent. Selsky and some of his friends left for Paris because of their teacher’s influence and the atmosphere in his workshop. It was the first of Selsky’s many visits to the capital of France.
Many surprises awaited him in Paris on his first visit, first and foremost of them being ready access to the masterpieces of world art and to the works by French modern painters such as Cézanne, Bonnard, Matisse, Léger, Picasso. They were the ones who guided his artistic aspirations. Apart from the Impressionists the young artist was interested in Soviet art of the early post-revolution (1917) period; he was fascinated by its dynamism, strong ideological and artistic message and revelations.
However, classical painting remained his main love. A host of still-lifes and paintings of nudes executed in Paris testify to the influence of classics. In his new pieces the artist took a genre approach: nudes are usually depicted in various postures at the toilet. Modern as they are, these pictures bring about ready associations with the tradition of Poussin, Watteau and Goya.
The still-lifes of 1926 are attractive for their craftsmanship and ease of execution, dynamic brushwork and a feeling of invisible presence of man. All this is best seen in his Still-Life with a Catalogue of the Soviet Exhibition.
In the summer of the same year Selsky returned to Lvov and then to Cracow; he had to graduate from the Academy. His last year of studies was supervised by Felician Kowarski, one of the well-known and most extraordinary Polish artists. As an instructor, Kowarski taught his students a sense of monumental form, understanding of decorative and emotional values of colour. The graduation work by a group of Kowarski’s students including Roman Selsky, was a mural depicting scenes from antique mythology. The certificate issued to Roman Selsky on October 28, 1927 reads that he graduated from the Academy majoring in painting with distinction. A promising career was in store for the artist. lie re-visited Paris, the city of friends, exhibitions, art shows and unforgettable encounters with works of art, old and new.
In early 1929 Selsky returned to Lvov as an experienced artist of firm convictions. That same year, the Artes, a new artistic society uniting young painters, architects and graphic artists was organized. Roman Selsky was elected its President. The first exhibition by the society was held in early 1930. The society was extraordinarily active: during the three years of its existence the Artes sponsored 12 exhibitions in Lvov, Ternopol, Stanislav, Warsaw, Cracow and Lodz. The society members contributed critical comments to the press, published art books and issued various declarations. Its members were friends who shared the same views on life and art: they stood in opposition to provincial narrow-mindedness and routine, conservatism in art, naturalistic trends, the “salon” art and arts establishment. They promoted the art modern in its content and means of expression. The society however was short-lived; now and then the members could not find a common ground because every member of the Artes was too much of an independent artist with creative approach all his own.
In the early 1930s, Selsky grew into one of the most influential painters in Lvov. His creative work was marked by versatility — on display at art shows were his marine pieces from Ilel, a cycle of interiors, autolithographs, etchings and Carpathian winter landscapes. Unlike other members of the Artes society, Selsky considered Nature supreme in painting.
The economic depression in Poland in the early 1930s, the intensified class struggle and the growing repression of progressive and democratic forces brought about dramatic changes in the world outlook of artists. This period is characterized by an acute interest the artists took in the Soviet way of life and Soviet art. Even scanty information on the Soviet Union culled from the press was welcomed by Lvov artists. Works by Ukrainian artists such as Anatoli Petritsky, Vasil Kassian, Mikola Glushchenko, Ivan Padalka never failed to provoke great interest as well as the Soviet cinema, agitprop forms and photo posters.
It was at this period that Roman Selsky executed his best works as far as their ideological message is concerned. They include The Battleship Potyomkin series inspired by Sergei Eisenstein’s film of the same title, the Sailor, the Revolution, The Banners, The Execution. These works are striking examples of the West Ukrainian and Polish art of the period for their forceful description of revolutionary ideas. Unfortunately, these works were destroyed during the Nazi occupation of Lvov in WWII and we know them only in reproductions.
In the pre-war years Selsky’s work embraced various genres; apart from portraits, he made interior pieces combining an impressionistic manner of painting with decorative approach. At the same time they are undoubtedly true lo life as “flesh and blood” representation of reality in every detail. A spontaneous joy of perception permeated Selsky’s finest still-lifes of the late 30s: Still-Life with Oranges, Still-Life with a Rarrel, Still-Life with Flowers. Beauty of ordinary subjects and purity of sentiments born of this beauty are two interdependent constituents of an artistic image created by Roman Selsky.
At this point a new “coloristic” period began in the creative career of Roman Selsky which lasted some 10 years and is characterized by the prevalence of colour and light. His paintings devoid of conventionalities of static representation displayed more dynamics and seemed saturated with air and sunlight. Ilis refined and complicated brushwork re-created vibrant atmospheric effects.
The reunification of Western Ukrainian lands with the Soviet stale proved to be an important milestone in the history of entire Ukrainian people. Roman Selsky and other representatives of progressive West Ukrainian intelligentsia welcomed this event which revived in the artist new creative abilities; he taught at the Art School, organized art shows, lectures and discussions. In the summer of 1940, Selsky together with his students came to Kiev, Moscow and Leningrad to see the country’s finest art collections.
A retrospective exhibition of works by artists from the West Ukrainian regions and by Hutsul master-craftsmen was an important event in the cultural life of the country. Roman Selsky was among the participants in the exhibition.
WWII disrupted the peaceful life. The Nazi troops occupied Lvov. Roman Selsky survived the trials and tribulations of the war period with his head unbowed. He refused to display his works at exhibitions and quit lecturing at the art school. His boycott was a protest against the regime of Nazi occupiers and their minions. The works belonging to the war period are few in number, only some portraits and still-lifes. But it was precisely painting that helped the artist to keep his moral strength, self-confidence and belief in future.
On July 27, 1944 the Soviet troops liberated Lvov and Selsky resumed his teaching activities at the Lvov school of decorative and applied art.
His post-war works included landscapes, still-lifes, subject paintings, portraits, interiors, acts, decorative compositions, appliqué, engravings and ceramic articles. Still, landscape and still-life remained his favourites. A landscape by Selsky is a condensed representation of a life phenomenon devoid of all transient qualities and at the same time possessing all the charms of living nature. The artist indefatigably strove to tackle the problems of decorative arrangement of the compositional elements, correlation of volumes, balance of planes and space, substantial and emotional functions of colour and rhythmical structure of the composition. Thematically, the painter preferred to depict seacoast, forested slopes of the Carpathians, mountain meadows and picturesque Hutsul villages.
Throughout his career in arts Selsky frequently turned to still life painting. Sometimes, however, it is difficult to tell landscape from still-life, as one is organically incorporated into the other.
Recent years witnessed considerable shifts in Selsky’s painting: the artist abandoned traditional artistic devices for a novel colouristic approach and enriched his colour palette. His latest works reveal a fresh vision of Nature and a variety of expressive means; unchangeable about Sel-sky’s works is a truly creative manner of translating life impressions into the language of art.
Roman Selsky is not only a painter, but also a pedagogue. For his many years of teaching he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labour. In 1983 a jubilee exhibition scheduled to coincide with the artist’s 80th anniversary was named “Roman Selsky and his Pupils”.
Selsky started teaching in the 1930s when he was in charge of the department of painting at the Lvov School of Applied Art. From 1947 on he headed the same department at the Institute of Decorative and Applied Arts. All the following years are closely linked with the Institute: for 27 years, up to his retirement, Selsky gave lessons in painting and composition, and in techniques of monumental art, supervised graduation works of students majoring m decorative painting, artistic textile, ceramics and glass. One of Selsky’s students articulated the main principle of Selsky’s pedagogics as “the conscious realistic perception” for his method first and foremost requires awareness of objective laws of the real world and their translation into arts.
Many artists in Kyiv, Baku, Moscow, Minsk, Kishinev and Alma-Ata take pride in calling themselves “pupils of Roman Selsky”. However, most of them have settled in Lvov to form “the workshop of Selsky” comprising Danilo Dovboshinsky, Volodimir Patik, Stepan Koropchak, Zinovy Flinta and many others. Their creativity is a proof of vitality of Selsky’s methodology.
For the last 50 years, the life and creative activity of Roman Selsky has been inseparably linked with cultural life of Lvov. He is co-author of numerous fundamental publications on the history of Ukrainian and Polish art of the 20th century. His legacy is kept or put on display in the museums of Kyiv, Lvov, Warsaw and Wroclaw.