Seeing the Light
Seeing the Light
The artist Fanny Seller has found a new way of working, using a medium ideally suited to her love for layers and luminosity.
If it hadn’t been for a leaking roof in the rambling old palace, ‘Mansion House’, a collective and alternative work space in Beirut, where the artist Fanny Seller was working for four years, then she may well never have stumbled across the technique that has since become one of her artistic inclinations.
Seller, who divides her time between Paris and Beirut, explains that in 2014, she was working on a huge, five-meter painting of a group of 42 children during an especially wet autumn. The process, she explains, was slow and, since the work was so large, she had positioned the canvas on the floor.
“I was painting one child per day,” she recalls. “I had to cover the canvas with glass because the rain was coming in, but somehow the water ran down under the glass and mixed with the paint.”
Seller admits losing her temper at first, when she saw the damage to her work. However, once her initial feelings had eased, she began to view the drama with different eyes.
“I was working on a group of children and, now, some of them had emerged as singular subjects,” she says. “I gradually redrew the images of the children on the glass and felt like I’d somehow stumbled across a new process. It was an accident, but it eventually brought good fortune.”
As soon as she made a line of ink on the glass, the process simply clicked. “Glass gives you a certain luminosity that you don’t get when working on canvas, so I can’t see myself moving to a different medium now,” she says. “I also love the fact that because you’re painting on the underneath of the glass, you’re layering what you see first in the reverse order, so the timeline is inversed. The process results in a completely different image as you continue to add layers.”
With an academic and practical background in conservation and restoration, Seller has long mastered the delicate techniques, such as retouching, filtering and layering, which are pivotal to her work today.
She arrived in Beirut in 1997, having studied art at the Sorbonne, and she found herself emerged in Lebanon’s cultural legacy, especially its byzantine icons. She began working on a variety of projects through the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts and taught art in several of the country’s educational institutions. Having gained a graduate’s diploma in art conservation and restoration from the renowned La Cambre school in Brussels, Seller then worked on various heritage sites around the world, before returning to Lebanon in 2012.
Over the years, she began experimenting with a wide variety of media, including acrylic, oil and charcoal. She even worked on installation, as she sought to carve out an individual style as an artist. Seller cites memories from her childhood, which was spent across a diverse range of locations, as among her greatest sources of inspiration.
Memory is indeed a driving force in her work, which sees her recreate a constructed image using soft colors and simple lines. “There are many definitions of memory, but for me it’s something that’s alive and always moving or changing,” she says.
Atmosphere is another influential factor; Seller cites a solo exhibition at Villa Paradiso, the EU embassy, in February 2017 as a highlight of her career to date, in part, she says, because of the setting. “I loved the fact that the exhibition took place in this previously abandoned, magical old palace that was now back in use and hosting the work of such an impressive group of artists. I was delighted and proud to be part of this lineage and legacy.”
Seeking out sanctuary in her everyday routine is something else that’s important to Seller, with yoga providing an effective and essential escape from the noise and bustle of city life.
Her ‘Recycl’Art’ workshops for children, which she holds free of charge at the French Institute Media Library in Beirut and Zahlé, provide her with an opportunity to serve another cause close to her heart. “We encourage kids to bring all kinds of material to work with. This sends out the message that art doesn’t have to be expensive and can even help us recycle our waste,” she says. “The children have such great imagination; I always say that I’m learning more from them than they learn from me. They are one of my main sources of inspiration.”