Lately there have been a number of artists’ DIY projects on view. Many are looking to break the monolithic mass of aesthetic sameness that clogs up the NYC gallery system. These hit and run tactics have been, well, hit or miss, but in this case, it’s definitely a hit. Michael Zahn dropped an invite to see this DIY project (sponsored by Lisa Jacobs and Non-Objectif Sud) of the painter Dennis Bellone’s works from 1990-2010. The space being used for the exhibit is in a building that comes with a literary pedigree – “This exhibition is housed in an old fire house, Engine 216, which was mentioned in the best selling novel, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn,” which was later made into a classic movie. Engine Co. 216 functioned as a fire house for 125 years before it closed in 1971.” The location makes a wonderfully funky backdrop for the paintings on view and a hopeful statement about the resilience of art and artists.
Dennis has been steadily working at his craft since the 90s. I wasn’t familiar with his work, and we spent the afternoon discussing his history and his approaches to abstraction. We share the idea that at the beginning of the 90s there was an exodus from painting, which left a gaping hole in the imaginations and practices of a generation of painters just coming of age. After the maximalist 80s and the sudden disappearance of money following the market collapse, the art world turned its attention to video, installation and performance leaving painting to a school of mannered abstractionists. Dennis found recognition during this time for his performances, critiquing and extending the Warhol/Nauman/Beuys legacy. His experimentations came to a head with a wild and wooly televised boxing match in Belgium when he stepped into the ring with then SMAK curator Jan Hoet. But all the while he was painting away, breaking his work across the conceptual catechisms and root-bound mannered abstractions of the time – reducing painting to its elements in order to find a new expression. There were other painters just beginning to mine similar ideas, and many have come and gone. But what makes this work real and timely is Dennis’ color – it is instinctive and thorough, strained and specific. And even as these compositions begin to fall apart in front of our eyes – he manages to pull them back together with his hue – watery Impressionist pastels melt into the ground flowing this way and that, a brush scrubs over an ultramarine field like Matisse, a naples yellow stroke is tightly pulled into existential ABEX crisis, a saturated red field is streaked through with titanium – tracing that candy colored surface with hot pink edges. He is a real believer in process and hue. As a painter you have to admire his willingness to push away nearly everything to get at essence and presence. And it would not be a stretch to say that he should be included amongst Raphael Rubenstein’s pantheon of Provisional Painters – Christopher Wool, Albert Oehlen, and younger painters like Josh Smith. Make some time to head out to Williamsburg and catch Dennis’ tight wire act.
Paul Corio – No Hassel At The Castle – has written a wonderful post on Dennis’ work – check it out here.