Sound Travels Farther in the Cold, 2008

Ingrid Swenson, PEER Hoxton, London

The word atmosphere is often used to describe a mood or to indicate an emotive register for a particular time or place. It is also used more precisely by meteorologists as a way of expressing the specific characteristics of the cloak of gasses that surrounds the earth and determines our weather. In Selma Makela’s work, both of these senses of the word are adopted. Whereas the depicted subject of her painting is often located in harsh or extreme climatic conditions, the object of looking at painting, as she has said of her work, aims to “locate one to a moment in paint – one has to be present to experience a painting and what atmosphere it emits.”

For Makela, the material presence of paint on canvas is something that has been built up from the notational evidence of a gestural activity that achieves a balance between the intentional and the unpremeditated. She always works on number of canvases at the same time, and they are left and then returned to again and again over a period of weeks or months. In this respect Makela refers to the importance of the layers of gesture and thought that lie beneath the finished surface in relation to memory. This habitual activity of over-painting is, for the artist, a way of making manifest our experience of memory; how a thing can be simultaneously fixed in the mind yet obscured from view.

Disruption of scale is explored in Makela’s paintings. Their intimate size contrasts with the depiction of seemingly vast, often frozen spaces that are home to wanderers, bears, penguins, comets, flocks of birds, airplanes, fragile manmade structures and the occasional lone figure. Makela often depicts her subjects enveloped by the weather – as if merged with, and sometimes almost indistinguishable from their environment. Her paintings embody the spaces inhabited by the migrant, the displaced or the visitor. At her first London exhibition Selma Makela will show a number of small paintings arranged across the white gallery walls like punctuation marks between thoughts – the precise meaning of which have just retreated from linguistic expression.