Harmony and Dissonance Imagined in the Abstractions of Joan Belmar

The topographical layers of Joan Belmar’s identity are mapped all over his art. Born in Chile in 1970, he spent his early years in the tyrannical grip of Pinochet’s military regime, fleeing to Spain to work professionally as a painter at the age of 24, and then to Washington, D.C., where he was granted permanent residency based on extraordinary artistic merit in 2003. Over the course of those uprooted years, Belmar forged a visual style that incorporated motifs of displacement and adjustment, combining painting and collage techniques to create tectonic plates of opacity and transparency that shift with the light, revealing and disclosing in varying degrees as viewers move around them. 

Featuring strata of paint applied to untreated strips of Mylar and acetate, which are then submerged under more pigment and material, the artist’s compositions evoke the language of cartography while wryly echoing, in effect, the strategic self-presentation and positioning required by a life of long-term statelessness. Debuting at Addison/Ripley Fine Art this month, his newest body of work, “Chords,” continues that investigation, exploring harmony and dissonance through the framework of musical composition. Ever sensitive to the nuances of assimilation, these acrylic, ink, and gouache paintings accommodate different artistic traditions, from the Spanish painting of Joan Mirò, for whom Belmar was named, to American artist Kenneth Noland’s Color Fields

As with an early series of abstract multi-media works from his “America” series, which Belmar hid from the public for 13 years and finally debuted in 2012, Chord is not overtly political, in topic or content. Instead, the paintings employ the motif of overlapping circles, Venn-diagram-like, to suggest the multiplicity of influence and identity, intimating the reality of the artist’s heritage through the sensory effect they produce: an unsettling of the visual field, as spheres of form and color bleed and dissolve into each other. In Belmar’s art, produced from a mediated space between worlds, the ghosts of underlying layers eternally peek through. Just like the residue of former cultures, attitudes, and traditions, they may fade, but they persist. 

Emily Nathan

Joan Belmar: Chords” is on view at Addison/Ripley Fine Art, Washington, D.C., Sept. 12th–Oct. 25th, 2014.

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