Ali Pechman, ARTnews, September 2013. Read the complete review here (PDF).
Ali Pechman, ARTnews, September 2013. Read the complete review here (PDF).
Dewitt Cheng, Huffington Post, December 31, 2010
George Lawson Gallery
San Francisco, California
The natural world was not so long ago considered the criterion by which we judged art: during the nineteenth century, fidelity to observable Creation paid homage to God’s creation (with God hiding behind the clouds, listening in); during most of the twentieth, the creation of personal mythologies would serve as surrogates for lost faith. In recent years, contemporary art’s embrace of new technology, of the commercial art market, and of literary-philosophical theories concerned with cultural symbols led to the general disappearance of nature from galleries.
Naturally, there were artist-dissenters, like Berkeley’s Judith Belzer. Her last series of polyptychs was entitled “The Inner Life of Trees;” in the current show of oils and watercolors entitled “Order of Magnitude,” she continues painting the natural world at a remove, finding micro and macro structures equivalent regardless of scale.
– Dewitt Cheng
Visual Art Source
Judith Belzer at George Lawson Gallery, San Francisco, California, Review by Dewitt Cheng
The natural world was not so long ago considered the criterion by which we judged art: during the nineteenth century, fidelity to observable Creation paid homage to God’s creation (with God hiding behind the clouds, listening in); during most of the twentieth, the creation of personal mythologies would serve as surrogates for lost faith. In recent years, contemporary art’s embrace of new technology, of the commercial art market, and of literary-philosophical theories concerned with cultural symbols led to the general disappearance of nature from galleries. Naturally, there were artist-dissenters, like Berkeley’s Judith Belzer. Her last series of polyptychs was entitled “The Inner Life of Trees;” in the current show of oils and watercolors entitled “Order of Magnitude,” she continues painting the natural world at a remove, finding micro and macro structures equivalent regardless of scale.
Gallery owner George Lawson describes Belzer’s goals and methods: “She moves freely from aerial to crystalline and cellular perspectives in her bid for intimacy with the natural order.” Through painting, that combined form of seeing, thinking, feeling and recording, she explores “the underpinning structures and porous surfaces of the world.” By magnifying what looks like tree bark by several orders of magnitude, she creates craggy, fissured geological landscapes that combine scientific naturalism with expressionist abstraction. They also pack, in the current climate of oil spills and gas explosions, something of an ecological punch, especially here the quaky Bay Area.
Some of the paintings resemble panoramic aerial photographs as readily as they do plant structures, with a deliberate ambiguity. To my eye the works are more emotional than previous reviews have suggested. With their white backgrounds, colored-pencil palette, and zippy graphic energy, the oils resemble colored pencil drawings made by lapsed Impressionists suffering from a certain Expressionist anxiety — like Van Gogh or Munch. With their high vantage points, the landscapes become all-over fields of energy in the spirit of Abstract Expressionism. With their nervous evocation of fraught inner worlds, they suggest postwar European artists like Henri Michaux and Wolfgang Schulze. A few examples:
“Order of Magnitude #1,” the first of the series, is a large oil presenting an aerial view of flat farmland, the boundary lines receding toward an invisible vanishing point above and outside the painting. The unusual vertical format defies the comfortable spectator conventions of landscape by placing us high above ground, as in a flying dream, rushing headlong “downhill” to the sunlit top of the image, where the incline flattens out; Belzer has declared that she is “interested in nature, not as a remote romantic idea, but something that’s related to our everyday life.” But this landscape is anything but humdrum: it’s heightened and distorted by adrenaline, like Munch’s agoraphobic (and tourist-unfriendly) beach scenes.
“Order of Magnitude #2” is a smaller painting, and without the rush into perspective space of the earlier work. It possesses its own odd subtext however. Depicting a cliff or dam topped by what appear to be fog-laden planted fields, and mirrored by still waters below, it would seem idyllic but for the cold light and the crevasses hinting and erosion and crumbling — and the toothlike boulders separated by dark filaments, like nerves. There is also a hint of the archaeological about this work for anyone who has looked at engraved illustrations of pre-Columbian Mexico; a hint of Romantic ruins to anyone who has looked at THomas Cole or Anselm Kiefer.
“Order of Magnitude #11” depicts tree bark subdivided into a loose grid of plates that irresistibly suggests an aerial view of an urban landscape, of blocks and subdivisions and expressways. The fissures that have opened between the blocks of “buildings” suggest light wells in some human beehive of the future (like those painted by Irving Norman) that has somehow become petrified.
“Order of Magnitude #3” and “Order of Things #4” (named after Foucault, not Lucretius) are smaller landscapes of the now-familiar fractured bark, here traversed by long, vermicular (or scarlike) rift valleys, possibly filled with water reflecting the white sky. Curiously, the topographies are filled with patches of abstract marks that suggest the glyphs that Chuck Close uses in his huge facial-landscape paintings, and the whitish scars might almost be primed gesso from which the paint has peeled, seen microscopically by a restorer. Art may be longer than life, but it’s also brief.
Judith Belzer/Valerie Carberry Gallery
Newcity Art, May 17, 2010
During the Middle Ages, links between things based on appearances were codified by the Doctrine of Signatures. Walnuts, for instance looked like, or carried the “signature” of, brains. Much later “The Order of Things” was the name of a late-twentieth-century book by Michel Foucault that likewise found epistemological coherence, that is, investigated the underlying connections between the manner in which social structures frame our perceptions and shape representations and habits of mind. Judith Belzer also conducts her inquiry, using paint and other graphic materials, into the order of things—how natural processes create patterns that, once exposed, speak of the underlying and connective structures of life.
Several paintings from a sequence titled “Cracks and Fissures” take deterioration in horizontal (lateral) sections of tree trunks as their source. The subject of these works seems for a moment to have something to do with their resemblance to landforms and the organic patterns that appear in maps of cities. Tree rings evoke time. Despite these connotations, the paintings work because they don’t become symbols of something else. The visual associations hover and shift but don’t ever take over Belzer’s studies of the patterns produced by rain, sun, insects and microorganisms on wood.
She records her observations with deft, industrious brush strokes, using oils like watercolors to sketch out her subjects in a range of sienna, sepias, umbers and ochre undercut with various blues. Her compositions are as faultless as the qualities of her hand: she works close to the subject leaving out edges and context so the cracks and fissures arc off into the upper right of the canvases. Ink drawings looking like very simple topographic maps link her work with the mapping of natural processes in Maya Lin’s recent exhibition at the Arts Club. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Through June 5 at Valerie Carberry Gallery, 875 N. Michigan.
Los Angeles Times | Arts | Culture Monster
by Sachi Cunningham, June 2009
Trees, closely examined, are the subjects of Judith Belzer’s latest installation at the 818 Dosa gallery in downtown Los Angeles. Nature has long been the focus of Belzer’s work, but when she moved to Berkeley from New England six years ago, she was struck by the larger scale of the West Coast landscape. And trees “are very large forms,” Belzer said at the gallery. “They’re also the part of the landscape that I relate to most, as another horizontal on the vertical plane.”
In the show, “Trees Inside Out,” Belzer offers various ways for gallery-goers to interact with her interpretation of the nature of wood. (See the video above.) By creating two “rooms” out of plywood, she invites viewers to step into and experience both a macro and micro way of seeing a tree’s patterns, either by looking at the oil paintings that she’s done as a “sense memory” from her imagination or by looking at the plywood itself, which she has outlined in pencil. You can also see real wood on pedestals, and pencil and paper drawings of wood formations that evoke cartographic images of a landscape from afar.
“Patterning repeats in interesting ways,” says Belzer, “and also you find the same patterns across nature in many forms. In rock formations, in water, in sand. These things operate on multiple levels. And I think it’s interesting, because I think it gets to the idea that there’s no one way to look at nature.”
Belzer was in town last week to give a lecture about the project with her husband, author Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals”), and gallery owner Christina Kim. The latter, a clothing designer who uses recycled material in her work, asked Belzer to create a show in her urban loft after one of her fashion lines was inspired by Belzer’s paintings. As for Pollan’s role, Belzer’s collaboration with him has lasted for more than 30 years (since they met at Bennington College in Vermont) and includes a 16-year-old son. Though they may argue about which music will be their muse as they paint and write side by side, you can see the common tie that binds their intellectual curiosity. They each take something that is everywhere in our daily lives — trees, and in Pollan’s case, food — and put it under a microscope to illuminate a larger story.
Plywood, for example, “is a very everyday construction material,” Belzer says, “but yet when you actually stop to reflect on it, it’s a beautiful material and actually relates to you. It’s not something that just magically appears at the lumberyard.”
She likes to play with the symbolic ideas of wood as well. Just as our culture has looked at trees “as these symbols of stability, of history”; as “a place that you go to for a peaceful lie down”; or as a “threat of fire,” she hopes that those walking through her exhibition will see how all these elements intertwine.
“It was just amazing to start to see the connections,” says Belzer, who sees the installation, available for viewing by appointment, as “perhaps a first step in helping us through what our relationship is to nature now in these troubled environmental times.”
— Sachi Cunningham
818 Dosa, 818 Broadway, 12th floor, downtown L.A. Hours: by appointment, Tuesdays through Fridays. Ends Sept. 15. (213) 489-2801.
Judith Belzer Paintings
Steve Reich’s Minimalism
Published January 5, 2009
I came across some images of paintings by Judith Belzer at the Room for Painting / Room for Paper website this weekend, and quickly went to Belzer’s website to view her work. Her most recent painting series, entitled “The Inner Life of Trees”, is a gorgeous set of paintings. Over time Belzer’s gaze has increasingly moved closer and closer to her subject matter. These most recent paintings evidence someone who has completely given in to her muse, and who is adrift in a sea of beauty inherent in the patterns of nature. These works recall Turner and Blake, but while those works were visually fantastic in their use of color, Belzer utilizes a cooler palette and rhythmic repetition of organic patterns. Her palette of grays, ochres, siennas and viridian green is simply wonderful, and no doubt informed by photography. While these works read like non-representational paintings, Belzer still identifies these works as landscape, which is understandable. After years of painting, Belzer has come upon a singularly beautiful imagery in her painting. I can’t wait to see what comes next from her.