Friday, May 21, 2010

Dennis Bellone at Engine Company 216

Dennis Bellone, 2010.a01, 2010. Oil on canvas, 89" x 75.5."

Dennis Bellone, 97.3, 1998. Oil on canvas, 72" x 60."

There's a certain kind of abstract painting that looks quite easy to make, but is in fact the hardest to carry off. Dennis Bellone wields the offhand gesture with grace, confidence, and a sense of playfulness, and if the chronology of paintings in Dennis Bellone: Paintings 1990-2010 is an accurate record of his development, it also shows increasing mastery.

Viewing a single gesture not buried in a forest of related marks is something like seeing an artist naked - there isn't anything to cover the truth about his mark-making ability and contrivance sticks out like a sore thumb. Bellone's marks have the kind of freshness that is generally reserved for children's drawings or doodles made while talking on the phone, except that his can be several feet in length, involving the entire arm instead of just the wrist. Subtle drips of transparent, fluid paint leave behind the evidence of gravity, so it's possible to trace the marks with the eye from beginning to end. Even when the paintings consist of a relatively small number of lines, shapes, and colors, there's still lots to look at.

And the reason there's still lots to look at is the strong orchestration of vast amounts of white space. The highly activated in-between spaces in Bellone's pictures share top billing with his confident gestures, although this isn't evident at first glance. It sometimes functions as ground (as expected), but other times as atmosphere, or erasure, or in the case of the two most recent pictures, as light. 2010.a01 (yes, that's the title) was my favorite picture in the show, and here the intervals of ground were radiant, projecting light through yellow and green lines in the center of the picture. The lines themselves, particularly the four on the right, have a perspectival quality which reinforces the illusion of projection. The fluid areas of red in the lower right and green in the upper left show a soft, painterly space that recedes and countervails the forward moving tendency of the white ground/light and the lines, and these watercolor-esque spaces seem to secure the picture to the support as the center billows out. Wow!

I also very much enjoyed 97.3 (the title, not a radio station) for it's shear nerve. The entire center of the picture is blank save for the evidence of a large-scale erasure, which transforms into a subtle cloud. Traces of the forms that were erased are somewhat clearer at the bottom, and the top is occupied by a green line that looks conspicuously like the ears of some hastily conceived cartoon dog rising from the mist. It was funny and ballsy, but that wouldn't have meant a thing if it wasn't also an excellent picture - I could (and did) explore that expanding cloud in the middle of the canvas for a long, long time.

Bellone has internalized much from Matisse and the late, Musketeer-era Picasso, and delivers it with freshness, highly personal quirkiness, and a kind of insouciant mastery which I found quite impressive. The show is at Engine Company 216, is presented by Lisa Jacobs Fine Art and Non-Objectif Sud, Inc., and stays on view until June 6th. The gallery is open from Thursday to Sunday from 12:00 to 6:00, and is located at 11 Scholes St. in Brooklyn. I highly recommend it.