Saturday, May 9, 2009

The spaces in between

An exhibition of new abstract work by Susi Bellamy entitled 'The Spaces In Between' was held in the Castello di Gabbiano, Florence, from 8th May to 31st October 2009. The following is a description of how these works fell into five categories according to what motivated her inventiveness and the visual outcome. The aim is to span the always present gap between seeing a painting and then using words to describe what we know.

On a visit to the Natural History Museum in New York, Susi was attracted and inspired by the arrangements of rocks and crystals displayed on the museum walls. In her Classification paintings, she arranges areas of colour like rows of displayed geodes or pebbles that seem to hover in space against the almost transparent smoothness of the background. In the Resin Classification series (the smaller works in the study) Susi recycles old paintings into ovals and constructs them into layers cemented down with a thick resin. Gazing through the smooth, shiny surface, it is like looking through water into a deep bed of stones, a grouping of cells, or a mosaic, a pietra dura, made up of pieces of coloured marble.

In this exploration of chaos versus order, amorphic, kinetic areas of surface are set against backgrounds which are again, limpid and smooth. Sometimes the dense areas in these paintings break into swirls or rivulets of colour that spin away for mere millimeters from the central sphere, like the trail of light or gas from a comet. With this work, as in the Classification series, there is a startling trompe l’oeil effect, in which the coloured areas appear to be heavy concentrated masses floating in space. The edges of colour create a tension between the areas of bonded, centrifugal mass and the surrounding open space.

In this series, stratas of landscape are conveyed by a ‘fossil’ approach in which parts of an earlier painting on the same canvas are embedded and revealed in the paint. At times Susi paints in the negative spaces, the holes and streaks left by the rough surface of her trowel with a contrasting colour. At other times the introduction of gold leaf adds an extra dimension to the work – inspired by the Italian Renaissance. The sense of place arises from her travels in the USA and Italy, and from her British home in Northumberland, combined into mysterious evocations of familiar places blended in her imagination and memory. The interplay between looseness and control, one of the veins of investigation she mines in all of these works, gives these paintings a rich and organic texture.

Pool Series
Drawn to contrast and colour, Susi’s attention was caught one evening by a contemporary swimming pool, artificially lit to a brilliant turquoise against the natural darkness of an Arezzo night sky. In her subsequent painting she was inspired to explore the contrast between the artificiality of hard lines and the beautiful fluidity of the natural landscape.

In her series of smaller abstract works Susi uses acrylic to simultaneously convey both infinite space and the most microscopic of cells, or the smallest of evolutions in a Petri dish. These paintings suggest dreamed versions of natural structures and events. Patterns can mimic the folds and jagged edges of crystallization, the millennially slow process of fossilization, the sliding cross sections of tectonic plates, all suspended in a moment. Although these images sometimes have the weight and solidity of marble and stone, there is incredible movement here as well, as if they were changing at the speed of light at the exact second in which Susi imagined them. The colours are brilliant, vivid and alive with intense temperature, icy blues and lava hot reds. Sometimes grids of black uneven lines are honeycombed over the surface, like a membrane stretched thin on a microscope slide. The negative spaces and shape, brief areas of flat colour, create glimpses of sky, air or distance. In these beautiful works Susi continues to play with spatiality, with what is inside, between and beyond the spaces she observes and creates.

In her introduction to the catalogue for the exhibition Mary Murfin Bayley writes

The exploration of order versus chaos, the influence of Florentine artisan skills, and the opposition of the practical and pragmatic against the precious and the ornate, are all themes that re-occur in Susi Bellamy's work. With her rich, exuberant colours, her use of gold leaf, the layering and marbling of paint, and landscapes that bring to mind the rough texture of stone walls, Susi conveys the Florentine influence, catching a city encrusted with the antique surface achievements of the Renaissance reflected through a contemporary aesthetic.

Her atmospheric landscape paintings suggest both the geometries of ancient cities and stratas of stone and cliff. Susi paints in the negative spaces, the holes and streaks left by the rough surface of her trowel, giving order to something that has appeared at random. This interplay between looseness and control, one of the veins of investigation she mines in all of her work, creates a texture that appears to have grown naturally, a surface with spaces that seem to contain their own layers of distance and perspective. In other paintings Susi sets areas of pulsing swirling colour against backgrounds that are limpid and smooth. Whether arranged as rows of displayed rocks or geodes, or exploding from the centre of the canvas, spinning rivulets of paint like the trail of light from a comet, these concentrated areas of mass and colour seem to float, gravity free in open space. It is a startling and beautiful trompe l'oeil effect.

The spectacular images in this show - landscapes that suggest both constructed and organic vistas, floating pebbles and plasmas that appear solid and at the same time full of movement, the play of surfaces and distance - make up an exhilarating and beautiful body of work, charged with intensity. The paintings in "The Spaces in Between" transform the spaces around them, creating a glimpse of a world lit up with colour, life, and energy.

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