The other night walked past the Jane Street Tavern and had a very specific memory of having dinner and drinks with some good friends many years ago. That evening was particularly rowdy and filled with talk of art, life and “all that shit”. These kinds of memories happen at times, especially now that we’re all a bit more – how to put this nicely – broken in. It can make one wistful – and in this particular moment – very much missed being able to see our friend, Dennis.
The first thing you should know about Dennis Bellone is that he could talk your ear off – and his knowledge of Art was deep and expansive. He also listened – deeply – to what you might say in order to understand where his ideas might connect with your views. He loved constructive discussions and confluential experiences. He used a lot of shorthand when he talked about art – and after a few beers – the conversation could become difficult to follow – but that was just fine with us – we all speak “whiskey shorthand” anyway. Dennis assumed you had the same depth of knowledge and experience – all he wanted was to make connections and see the pathways.
The second thing you should know is that Dennis didn’t edit very much or very often – not his paintings, his writings or his life. Everything was done all at once for the most part. That also goes for his blog – he just let it fly like he was talking to us in the bar or the café. He knew we would catch on. Truth is he was writing for us – wanting to see what we might say, what we might ask. His writing wasn’t necessarily done for the larger art community – though he would be chuffed to know that others might be reading and looking and finding their own interpretations of his words and his paintings. Below are a couple of things that are especially good and indicative of his work. Pulled these from Immaterial Culture.
In That Dirty Old Bastard – Dennis is discussing Picasso (the dirty old bastard) and what he found to be alive in Pablo’s paintings. He also compares this older kind of Modernism to what was going on at the time. Dennis was adamant about what was lacking in much of the art that we encountered in the galleries. He felt that our generation had been over-schooled – victims of meta-painting and institutional theoretical systems. He often bemoaned the fact that many of the so-called “rule breakers” of this era were just following predetermined pathways – upgrading rather than innovating. He felt that we were missing something that the older masters had access to – their art was done in the first person and it came from lived experiences. Yes, the past must be acknowledged, but for him, it’s also something to overcome, remove and discard from one’s work – just as Dennis’ heroes had done. In the other article – On Motif – he was discussing his own work experiences and what he hoped would come across to us. (The text below has been edited a bit.)
“The problem with Picasso – or Miró for that matter – is that they don’t fit into convenient categories of modernist art production, nor does Duchamp…. The American version of Modernism has Clem Greenberg’s shadow still haunting it, at least for someone of my age and generation, because we or I, was over-steeped in it from schooling. The conceptual and minimal works that came out of it owe more than a passing debt to Clem, even if as [a] reaction. Not surprising too because painting as an “avant-garde” practice was pretty much exhausted by 1920 and the rest since, [are] mining familiar territories.”
“The problem with theory is that it takes place in words. Don’t get me wrong I love words – look ma, I’m using them now – but the best wordsmiths and the best painters, artists, etc., know [that] they are having fun with their media [when] trying to expand the field of expression – [it’s] not for the accolades, but because they or we are trying to find the best way to relay or transmit this weird feeling or idea that we have about the world to someone else. We don’t make art to fit the academy or the school, October or Artforum, MoMA or the New Museum. That is where art goes to die, stuffed and on the wall.” Dennis Bellone – That Dirty Old Bastard
“To make a painting means something. Watching the Richter film was akin to that. I was happy to hear that how he feels about his work, in process, is similar if not exactly like how I feel. Painting is a visual language that is independent but somewhat subscribed to verbal language. I am lucky in that I have a few artists who I can have the most seemingly hermetic conversations one could imagine – having about the most arcane minutia one could imagine.
I made a conscious decision given when I was more active in the “art world” to make a kind of gestural abstraction, I still do. This was in the early 90’s. Not one that was related to David Reed or Stephen Ellis but one that was even more raw, disgusting and primeval.Arthur Danto remarked once upon seeing two of my works that they were like the paintings a cave man would make if he made abstract art. He said this in the pejorative and with David Reed by his side. [Dennis took great pride in this mis-understanding of his art.]
Mark making means something, the marks that we make add up to something and the image that these marks make are the first and primary form of access. These marks and the image they make are questioned by the viewers as to what is being said, what is being propositioned.” [Dennis Bellone Immaterial Culture On Motif]