Brian Belott is a master collagist whose sensitivity to his materials transcends the kitschier qualities of his work, which has a blissfully homespun esthetic all its own. For “The Joy of File,” Belott constructed a sort of modern-day cabinet of curiosities, building a freestanding room-within-a-room on whose exterior walls he sampled results of his obsessive scavenging projects. Thrift store picture frames, old children’s books and abandoned family snapshots are carefully collected and sorted, only to be radically transformed into elegantly sloppy abstractions. Utilizing materials like glitter, tinfoil and neon-colored paint that are associated with a suburban child’s arts and crafts table, Belott seems to maintain an ongoing conversation with a youthful self—one that would have been familiar to many viewers. Strolling past the densely collaged walls as the subtle sounds of found cassette tapes drifted overhead was akin to revisiting in a dream the corridors of a once familiar elementary school.
Big expanses of the structure’s wall space were filled with recycled photographs, which mingled mischievously with graphic scraps of textbook pages and lushly hand-painted swaths of paper. Here and there, patches of glitter defined biomorphic shapes. Vivid oversized combs floated delicately in waves of red spray paint. Wooden clothespins and dangling house keys were strung together into a visual pun on a piano keyboard, which wrapped around the entire bottom of the structure. As wildly complex as some of the walls were, each was anchored by a single larger framed picture. One example of what Belott terms a “glass work” (a painting incorporating a found frame and its glass) playfully evoked, with a crooked grid, both the Bauhaus constructions of Josef Albers and the geometric austerity of Ad Reinhardt. Belott’s clumsy and almost slapdash use of brightly colored foil serves as a goofy response to the cerebral standards of abstract formalism. Another smaller grid painting is built from Styrofoam packing squares that have been awkwardly glued to a small pre-stretched canvas and drenched in luminous acrylics.
While such materials and techniques are often linked with high-concept appropriations of low culture, the artist employs them here with nary a hint of irony. Instead, his work forces us to confront that strange moment in childhood when innate creativity and serious art-making become, sadly, disconnected. In Belott’s world, the kids have run amok in the classroom. They refuse to let their imaginations be confined to a limited period of time (recess, for instance). By obliterating any hierarchical distinctions between handmade craft and high art strategizing, Belott is able to harness his wild creative energies into a very refined and joyful dissertation on our collective inner child.
Photo: View of Brian Belott’s mixed-medium exhibition “The Joy of File,” 2010; at Zürcher.