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Udo SELLBACH O.A.M. (b.1927; d.2006)

Udo Sellbach was born in Cologne, Germany in 1927. He grew up during the oppressive period of the Nazi regime and continued to live in Cologne through the war years, watching the city almost completely destroyed. He was conscripted to the army and sent to the Russian front in the last months of the Second World War in 1945. * After the war, as West Germany became less culturally oppressed than it had been under Nazism, Sellbach had his first experience of modern art and he went on to study at Kölner Werkschulen under Alfred Will from 1947, graduating in 1952 as a Meister Schuler. At the Kölner Werkschulen, Sellbach was trained in the Bauhaus model, which would influence his teaching in the future and, along with other post-war European immigrants, he brought this European model to Australia. * After graduating, Sellbach established the Kölner Presse, a print workshop in Cologne, in association with the Gallerie der Spiegel, where he editioned artists’ lithographs.

In 1955, Sellbach emigrated to Australia with his wife, printmaker Karin Schepers, settling in Adelaide and establishing himself as a printmaker. ** Sellbach began his prestigious teaching career as the junior art master at the St Peters College in Adelaide. Between 1960 and 1963, Sellbach lectured in printmaking at the South Australian School of Art in Adelaide where, together with Jacqueline Hick, he established the first printmaking course. In 1961, he formed the South Australian Graphic Society, the first society in the state devoted to prints, for which he was Treasurer and Barbara Hanrahan President.

*** Following the breakup of his marriage, Sellbach moved to Melbourne to commence working at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), where he taught printmaking from 1965 to 1970 with Tate Adams. *** In 1966, he founded the Print Council of Australia in Melbourne with Ursula Hoff and Grahame King.

In 1971, Sellbach relocated to Hobart, where he worked as Director of the Tasmanian School of Art. Sellbach was a foundation member of the Australia Council’s Visual Arts and Crafts Board in 1973 and became a member of the Tasmanian Arts Advisory Board. Then, in 1977, he took up the position of Founding Director at the Canberra School of Art and formed the Graphic Investigation workshop in 1978, appointing Czech Petr Herel to the helm. He was the Director of the CSA from 1977 to 1985. * Between 1985 and 1991, Sellbach lectured in printmaking at the Queensland College of Art.

Having retired from teaching in 1991, Sellbach moved back to Hobart. In his later years, Sellbach made small-scale drawings which occupied him until his death in 2006. **

Sellbach held his first exhibition of prints in Australia together with his then wife, Karin Schepers, at Peter Bray Gallery in Melbourne in 1956. He exhibited in the Contemporary Art Society’s first Australia-wide Graphic Art Exhibition at David Jones’ Art Gallery in Sydney in 1960. His work was also included in the Art Gallery of NSW’s 1963 to 1964 national touring exhibition, Australian Print Survey. *** One of Sellbach’s paintings, Myth of the machine, was included in the ground-breaking exhibition of hard-edge abstraction, The Field, at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1968. Sellbach held many more solo and group exhibitions throughout Australia as well as in the US.

In 1997, Sellbach was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for services to art as an artist and to the development of printmaking as well as to art education. ** A road in the Canberra suburb of Weston was named after Sellbach in 2013 with the support of his family.

Celebrated for his work as a printmaker, painter and educator, Sellbach held many prestigious teaching positions and made a considerable contribution to art education and printmaking in Australia. Geoffrey Dutton, writing for the South Australian Advertiser about the South Australian School of Art’s first printmaking exhibition in 1960 said of Sellbach as a teacher: “The skilled technique and the originality of his own work already well known in Adelaide and it is just these two qualities which he … seem[s] to have been able to pass on to the students giving them scope for originality and at the same time a sure foundation of technical knowledge.” ****

In a statement on the meaning of craft for art education, Sellbach points to the necessity for thinking about art education as an endeavour that unifies the individual and the communal, the personal and the social, which he added can put an end to disciplinary thinking that divides art into different categories and capabilities: “Craft is the discipline of hand, heart and mind, the conjunction of human capabilities into one activity under one name.” *****

The work Sellbach produced is both serious and powerful. An exploration of the human condition, it explores moral and ethical issues. Much of Sellbach’s work stems from his experience and the horror of war, the intense black shapes invoking the charred landscapes of bombed cities or war-torn landscapes. *

Even with seemingly more whimsical musings on everyday domestic life, the references to topographies of cities bombed and devastated remains. For example, the caption to Myth of the machine, which was exhibited at The Field, notes it is part of a series of works that explored abstracted rectangular shapes, in part influenced by an experience of noticing a shadow cast by a sheet drying on a Hills hoist. In the breeze, the shadow of the sheet was transformed into a much looser form, still reminiscent of a rectangle, but with edges that buckled, danced and rippled. ** Yet the same caption goes on to note the devastating effect the war had on him.

Andrew McNamara and Wiebke Gronemeyer comment: “Waste tends to play a large role in the thoughts of Sellbach’s generation and even an earlier generation of emigres and refugees. If there is ‘beauty’, then, it is beauty that lies in the face of destruction, after its destruction, when new possibilities of meaning open up. … The ultimate fascination with Sellbach’s best work is that it throws up knots of apprehension. One seeks to secure reference, to reach something tangible, to acquire it from the most obscure means. One thinks one apprehends the impression and the visual experience, but really one needs to grasp what journey the eye is being led upon. It asks us to see again, and again.”

Sellbach’s works are held in Collections across Australia, including the Art Gallery of NSW, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of South Australia, the Art Gallery of Western Australia, the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, the Queensland Art Gallery and many other state and regional galleries, corporate, university and significant private Collections throughout Australia as well as at The British Museum in London.


* Udo Sellbach, Meanjin Exhibition, University of Melbourne archives ** Udo Sellbach, The Field Revisited Artwork Labels, 2018 pp 16, 70 and 131 *** Australian prints from the Gallery's collection, Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, AGNSW, 1998 **** Art Education and Printmaking in the 1950s in South Australia, Udo Sellbach, paper presented at The Second Australian Print Symposium, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1992 ***** Udo Sellbach: Seeing it, Still, Andrew McNamara and Wiebke Gronemeyer, Queensland University of Technology


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