North 40: In my Element

Tonja Vojacek Sell

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Center for the Visual Arts, Wausau, WI. 427 N 4th St, Wausau, WI 54403

North 40: In my Element is a show of personal significance that started almost 2 years ago and completed in the isolation of Covid-19.  North 40 is nostalgic, depicting subjects and environments that have personal significance to me.  My hope is that it resonates with those having rural roots and an appreciation for back-roads America.  It is a glimpse into my world, both real and imagined. 

Though 40 of my years have been based in rural Wisconsin, my work is also Influenced by extensive travel in the United States, Spain, Italy, France, Mexico, Australia, etc.  My work has been described as narrative.  I have a background in illustration and enjoy the challenge of visual communication.  My paintings often invite the viewer to enter a scene and share a fleeting moment in time.   I define my work as realist expressionism.    It is predominantly subject-based, but to me, the use of color, the inclusion of texture, and application of paint has equal importance to the subjects themselves.  The subject is the vehicle for the painting process.  I try to give the viewer enough information to connect with the scene but encourage them to finish the story themselves.  I am not interested in replicating, rather, responding.

 I generally create in series, exploring several ideas generated by a particular subject or setting.  I typically work on several pieces at a time, slowly building layers of color and texture while developing areas of predominant focus.  I tend to work intuitively, so a painting may change dramatically from conception to completion.  Sometimes only fragments of the original thought remains.  I don’t constrict its growth, rather allow it to grow and change during development.  

The show contains work painted on location and work started on-site and finished in the studio.  I work using live models, my photographs, and include elements drawn from imagination.   The landscapes are locations on or near our property in northwestern Wi, near Lake Superior.    The people depicted are my friends, family, and neighbors.   My sculptures, often figurative, utilize natural and found objects such as Lake Superior driftwood, stones, and blown-glass elements.  

Nests are a recurring theme in my work referring to womanhood, motherhood, and the significance of family.   The Empty Nest is a painting where the subject, though dominant by subject, size, and position becomes integrated into the texture, color, and patterns of the environment.  I enjoy exploring the tension created between color relationships and areas of more and less focus and definition. The painting; The Creative Process depicts my father in my grandfather's barn-workshop space.  My grandfather was constantly working on his farm equipment, rigging his pressing project to work more efficiently. My father is a glasswork-blower and inventor.  He is in constant motion, moving from one project to the next.  I tried to capture him in a brief pause, considering his next endeavor surrounded by options.  I chose to leave the tools undefined to better represent thought and creative possibilities. Whether an artist, farmer, mathematician or mother, I think we depend upon the creative process more than we are conscious of.