A small but impressive exhibit of paintings by Joan Belmar is recently on view at Adah Rose Gallery in Kensington. As I have noted in the past, one of the most remarkable things about Belmar is the way in which he renews his art in an evident trajectory of style, content and medium. The paintings in Beguiled by Caravaggio are testament to the ongoing strength of Belmar’s talent, and his ability to reuse material in new ways and with new interests.
This series of works painted on heavy paper with acrylic, ink and oil, are the result of a renewed acquaintance with Caravaggio, the early Italian Baroque master known for his realist approach and his limited, but intensely rich palette. A work by Caravaggio like the Lamentation made for the Chiesa Nuova, the “new church” of Santa Maria in Vallicella (now in the Vatican Pinacoteca) is the kind of painting that “beguiled” Belmar. Caravaggio’s sharp contrast of the figures—from the pale flesh of Christ to the brilliant red of St. John’s cloak, to the rust of Joseph of Arimathea’s tunic, fanning in an upward curve against a profoundly dark background of blacks—can be seen as the inspiration for works like Conversation: Red and Draperies. Belmar has layered the folds of red with blacks that vary in depth. Oratory explores various textures as well as shades of black in a work that evokes Caravaggio in a completely original abstract composition. The viewer can see some familiar shapes in these works; the circle especially with its connotation of spheres and space that adds a mystical touch as it has done in many of the artist’s previous works. Interestingly, the title Oratory recalls the fact that the Chiesa Nuova was built for the “Oratory of St. Philip Neri”, a society founded for followers of that mystical Counter-Reformation Roman saint. And, there is something Roman about these paintings, or perhaps, Spanish in the depth of the blacks and the brilliance of the color contrasts.
Two horizontal works that the artist has called “trainscapes” carry over the colors and the textures of the other paintings that specifically allude to Caravaggio. These, however, were inspired by the shape of the windows of the trains that Belmar now regularly takes from his new home in upstate New York to the City or back to Washington DC. Belmar has, for some time, been curving the edges of his paintings on paper, and he noticed that the horizontal train windows were also curved in this way. Glancing out of the windows of a speeding train tends to create a sense of passive viewing, even a sort of meditative condition that empties thoughts. In this way, these “trainscapes” are connected in content as well as form to the series that specifically referenced Caravaggio’s world in this beguiling show.
Begiled by Caravaggio is on view through Thursday, July 26 at Adah Rose Gallery located at 3766 Howard Ave., Kensington, MD. For more information, visit www.adahrosegallery.com or call 301-922-0162.