George Sellers sits in his Exposition Avenue pied-à-terre in Dallas amongst his gilded bugs and octahedrons, goat-footed desks and zinc white tree twigs, contemplating the route from then to now. “It is circuitous,” says the artist the day before heading to New York to install a sculptural extravaganza at the Paramount Hotel’s Diamond Horseshoe,
I CONSIDER MYSELF A MINIMALIST, JUST NOT A VERY GOOD ONE.
the fabled 1930s cabaret currently undergoing a $20 million restoration. “Circuitous, at best.”
Sellers’ designs for the nightclub — a 13-foot jewel encrusted ceiling medallion of resin, wood and steel; an entire room of backlit carved paraffin panels; and a gold-leaf proscenium — arrived on West 46th Street ahead of time, in pieces, as much of his work does. For his clientele (Van Cleef & Arpels, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York), Sellers and his Dallas-based team of four or so fabricate decorative art, sculpture and architectural ornament, ship it from his Oak Cliff studio and follow it like transplant surgeons, infusing high-profile spaces with imagination, wit and a touch of the fantastical. The starburst ceiling embellishment was inspired by Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, in which an angel pierces the saint’s heart with a fire-tipped spear, sending her into spiritual bliss.
“My eye is drawn to Renaissance decoration and Rococo, and I do love clean and modern, too. I exist between those; it’s all in the middle,” says Sellers, who studied classical sculpture at Studio Art Centers International in Florence after college. “I also love silly carving, like acanthus leaves, and am always drawn to figurative embellishment, the crazier the better.” His work, which also includes collections of home decoration, mystical creatures and tree stumps, is carved from clay, molded in sustainable rubber and cast in plaster. “These pieces are extremely intricate and meticulously crafted, a mix of grotesquerie and beauty,” says Jeffrey Lee, owner of Grange Hall, which carries select limited-edition pieces.
Despite characterizing his professional route as roundabout, Sellers, 48, seems to have navigated a perfectly direct artistic trajectory — one that has trusted his talent and temperament and recognized possibility in himself, his medium and his environment.
A gully creek cut through his family’s property in Healdton, Oklahoma. As a child, Sellers found himself playing in it, carving the white clay at the bottom of the ditch. “It was a very isolated southern oil town,” he says. “I was the youngest of five, and they all took off and left me in the country. I was usually by myself in the creek.” He knew early on, however, that geography wouldn’t be a barrier.
He rises from the sofa and retrieves a book from a wall of shelves dotted with plaster hands, branches, sea creatures and other feats of whimsy: Thorpe by Mary Dutton, published in 1967 and signed by “Aunt Fudge,” who was known for hanging Christmas balls from her ears and spraying her hair silver. “My aunt showed me that you can do something here in this little town and make an impact,” Sellers says.
In the ’90s, after returning to Texas from Italy, where he sculpted in marble, Sellers found representation for his work and
developed a base of collectors. In time, he tired of the patron relationship and the emotional demands that it produced. His “angsty figures” —powerful renderings of the human form — are central to his identity as an artist but have given way to less personal work that allows him to be more removed.
“His ideas fly out of his head so fast, you have to be ready to catch them,” says nephew and head fabricator Ely Sellers, who began as an apprentice eight years ago. “I never went to college and was working at a restaurant. He said, ‘Hey, you can live with me and work with me.’ I jumped on it. It’s a slow climb, and I’m still growing. But I’ve always believed in him.” The two collaborate on all projects, including an upcoming furniture collection for Neiman Marcus; a zoo-full of plaster animals, available at Grange Hall in Dallas; and a 4-foot-tall spider for Bergdorf’s Christmas window, the fourth that they’ve done. “It will be covered in one-eighth-inch-long quartz crystals,” says Ely, “so it looks hairy.”
Sellers likes to stand out on the street when such a window is complete. “I get the same joy as I did when I opened an exhibition,” he says. “It’s like public art.”