Visual Arts Viewpoint: Interview with Artist Joan Belmar
DC Metro Theater Arts
by Maggie Gourlay April 2015
Before you make your way to a table at the new Busboys and Poets in Takoma Park, allow yourself generous time to walk around the space and contemplate the worlds inside Joan Belmar’s paintings hanging on the walls. A palette of browns, whites and sepias in granular textures evoke earthy terrain, while velvety black circles suggest opaque nighttime skies. At times, bright colors assert themselves uncompromisingly. Across portions of these mindscapes march topographical stitching lines suggesting boundary demarcations; across other portions meander lines of contour mapping. Belmar’s work is built up layer after layer in a complex dance of opposites—transparent and opaque, textural and smooth, organic and geometric, earthy color and bright reds or blues.
I’m sitting down over coffee with Chilean-born, Takoma Park-based artist Joan Belmar at Busboys and Poets to discuss his work. Entitled Discover the Art of Social and Political Change, the paintings are on exhibit through April 30th.
What is the significance of the title of the show and the bodies of work you show here?
The original title of the show that contained these pieces in 2012 at Charles Krause Reporting Fine Art was Hidden Treasure. The artwork came from two different series: the Americas series, created between 1999 -2006, as an emigrant from Chile and Spain it reflected my first impressions of America; and, the Tierra del Fuego series, created in 2012, inspired by the Anne Chapman book Hain about the ceremonies and the extermination of the indigenous Selknam people by the Chilean and Argentine governments in the early 1900’s.
Do you view your work as overtly political? If not, is it meant primary as an aesthetic experience or is there another take away?
I believe all art is political. The best example for me is Jackson Pollock. His works are abstract and apolitical but they communicated the unrestricted nature of freedom and were used to promote freedom in the United States during the cultural Cold War with Russia. Nevertheless, when I’m working, I don’t think of the work as political. I just follow my instincts, helped by personal experiences, and I do whatever I want. I like to experiment, change, challenge myself. Yes, some of my series could be seen as more or less literal than others. It all depends on the venue I have in mind and my motivation at the moment.
Mapping symbols and circular imagery abound in your work. Why?
I have always been interested in marks, scars, signs, etc., because for me they register evidence of a past. And that became more evident to me during my research of the maps and geographical regions where the Selknam people lived. I love circles because they are present in everything. Think about it, when you look the line between the ocean and the sky it looks straight but we all know that our planet is round.
Becoming Paper 2
How important are titles of work to you?
I don’t like to set titles because they can narrow the personal vision of the viewer.I may be completely different from someone who views my work but I believe I can connect with that person through my work about deep, hidden, and universal feelings. That is why my titles are mostly abstract and not explicit, because I don’t want that experience to be narrowed by a title.
Describe briefly your process. Has your background as a graphic designer had an impact on your work?
I work on several pieces at a time and they often become a series. I work on the floor. In the case of my paintings, I choose a supporting base background and then I let the painting freely run, mix, fight and find a destination. Later, I need to find a way to balance and connect it with concepts that I am working at the moment. My three-dimensional work is more disciplined and organized.
My background as a graphic designer gave me the chance to learn to draw and be aware of many art techniques. Also it gave the technical knowledge, which I combine with my intuitive knowledge, to balance intense and chaotic paintings. You need to know these rules in order to know the right way your particular art should break them.
In addition to the paintings in this exhibit you make work that is more 3-D, can you say a few words about these works?
I think of my 3-D work as the voice of the hidden sculptor inside me. I took me many years to develop this technique. I wanted something that would evoke sculptural sensibilities but that was also hard to classify because it didn’t correspond with any specific category. What I came upon was something like sculpture trapped inside a painting frame. I don’t like conventional boxes and I love contradictions. I love the process that involves apparently insignificant, common and translucent objects and how they can be used to create pieces that play with the way we appreciate things. Also, I love how light constantly changes these 3-D pieces and how they also change depending upon the viewer’s angle.
Terre Del Fuego !
Do you feel the DMV to be a good place to be an artist? In your opinion, what institutions/organizations help artists to exhibit, form a community, and thrive there?
Yes. We live amid a vibrant art scene. But one problem we have is that we don’t have many galleries or other venues that can represent, provide exposure and take artists to a higher level outside DC. In my case, Washington Project for the Arts was crucial to my development as an artist. Also Hillyer Art Space, Transformer, School 33 in Baltimore, and McLean Project for the Arts are great non-profit art organizations where artists can show a serious body of work without thinking about the commercial aspects.
What does the DMV need to help artists thrive?
In general, more education to help people appreciate the visual arts. And, for those beginning to collect art, it is important to emphasize to them that they can collect great art in this area without having to go to New York or abroad.
Artist Joan Belmar was born in Santiago, Chile in 1970. He left Chile for Spain, at the age of 24, where he began painting professionally under the Catalan name Joan for his name John. He came to Washington, D.C. four years later in 1999, and was granted permanent residency in the U.S. based on extraordinary artistic merit in 2003, and became a citizen in 2010.
He was a Mayor's Award Finalist in 2007 as an outstanding emerging artist in Washington, D.C. The DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities awarded him an artist fellowship grant in 2009, and in 2011, the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County gave him an Individual Artist Grant.
Also The Maryland Arts Council awarded Belmar Individual Artist grants in Visual Arts: Painting, in 2010 and 2013.
His series of 3D works, and his series of paintings, Territories and CHORDS, have all been acclaimed by artists, critics and curators. His unique 3-D paintings are created by using strips of Mylar and acetate to build up a space inside the painting. The sheer quality of these translucent materials captures and reflects light and encourages an up close viewing of the work to reveal the different layers within.
His paintings reference imaginary maps and geographical locations where color plays an important role. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and it is part of many private and public collections.
By Mark Jenkins October 10 at 10:57 AM
"CHORDS: Liberto," 2014
Acrylic, ink and gouache on canvas, 8 x 6 feet; on view at Addison/Ripley Fine Art.
Circles are also a motif in Joan Belmar's "Chords," at Addison/Ripley Fine Arts. Some of these drawing-paintings suggest interstellar charts, with dotted lines that might indicate hypothetical orbits. But their vast expanses also could represent deserts, such as the barrens of northern Chile, the local artist's homeland. Grids add to the sense that Belmar is charting some sort of territory, although he contrasts.
Circles are also a motif in Joan Belmar's "Chords," at Addison/Ripley Fine Arts. Some of these drawing-paintings suggest interstellar charts, with dotted lines that might indicate hypothetical orbits. But their vast expanses also could represent deserts, such as the barrens of northern Chile, the local artist's homeland. Grids add to the sense that Belmar is charting some sort of territory, although he contrasts the Cartesian elements with watery shapes and three-dimensional effects. Bubbles seem to rise from the picture plane, and painted shadows create the illusion that orbs are spinning above it. Sometimes, as in "3/D #1," the multiple levels are actual, and not just skillfully simulated.
Working mostly on canvas or paper, Belmar combines acrylic, ink, oil and gouache. That list alone gives a sense of his work's layered complexity. Yet the compositions and color schemes in "Chords" appear simpler than in Belmar's earlier work. The pictures are mostly rendered in grays and blacks, accented by hues that are usually muted but occasionally bright. Yellow and orange illuminate "Small Canvas," while aqua seeps through the complex "Liberto," at eight-feet high the largest piece. At that scale, the map and the landscape begin to merge.
With wires and beads, exhibits dangle intrigue in front of visitor's eyes
By Mark Jenkins February 20 at 12:38 PM
"Drop, Hover, See-Through, Lean" — the subtitle of a three-artist exhibition at the McLean Project for the Arts, is appealingly straightforward. Barbara Josephs Liotta's sculptures do seem to hover, although they don't disguise the strings that suspend the stone shards. Annie Farrar combines found objects into vertical assemblages and then slants them against the wall. Joan Belmar arrays plastic forms in wall-mounted boxes — abstract dioramas that are literally if not thematically transparent.
The show's full title is "Manifesting Phenomena: Drop, Hover, See-Through, Lean," and it's that first part that's tricky. The three area artists seem less inclined to manifest than to manipulate. Liotta contrasts heft and weightlessness, taunting gravity by seeming to float rocks in midair. But she sometimes emphasizes artifice, allowing dangling string to pool on the floor or arranging green stones on a descending scale in a piece that resembles musical notation.
Farrar's materials, which include a lot of brooms, are often made of wood. So bundling the items into upright clusters suggests that she's returning them to their origins as trees, except that she denatures the lashed-together pieces by painting them black, yielding an industrial look. Belmar's constructions hint at both landscapes and the maps that chart them. But placing the elements behind plastic gives them a sense of distance — the remove from his Chilean homeland? — and even mystery. While Liotta's and Farrar's art exists palpably in space, Belmar's appears just out of reach.
Although it's in a separate space, Jean Sausele-Knodt's "Out for a Spin" is a good fit with the arts center's main show. The artist's wall sculptures are partially abstract, while incorporating the forms of clouds and foliage. Yet the organic shapes are conjured from building materials, as such titles as "Concrete Mix One" and "Rebar Mix Two" indicate. Like Farrar, Sausele-Knodt returns manufactured articles partway to a state of nature.
Manifesting Phenomena: Drop, Hover, See-Through, Lean: Works by Joan Belmar, Annie Farrar and Barbara Josephs Liotta and Out for a Spin: Mixed Media Paintings by Jean Sausele-Knodt On view through March 7 at McLean Project for the Arts, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. 703-790-1953. www.mpaart.org.
read more reviews on http://www.joanbelmar.com/id7.html