Illusions by a Chilean Immigrant

A story featured in "NY—Art News" about Joan Belmar, a participating artist in The Jüdische Kulturbund Project's Shared Stories Collection.

Underground-2 © Joan Belmar

“People think that if you know how to draw and paint, you know how to make art, but that is not correct. You just know how to repeat a technique.”- Joan Belmar Joan Belmar is a Chilean-born artist whose works often reflect upon his journey from Chile, Spain and the United States and tries to incorporate their influences into his work. The experience of viewing the world as a migrant, an immigrant, an absorber of various cultures shows in his works. The layers that one builds within themselves is akin to that in his practice- each experience and culture adds an element, one cannot go back to being from one culture after experiencing another- they change at an intrinsic level- contributing to the macroscopic picture. This zoomed- out version of a culture and its composite of tensions depicted by between stretched, curved forms that are coerced into shapes and freely flowing colors, add another dimension to this perspective.

MidnigtExpress © Joan Belmar

In a number of his series, Belmar uses complex compilations of painted translucent mylar sheets and geometrical forms which produce movement. These three- dimensional, luminous assemblages add a visual richness to his work engaging the viewer with every angle that one explores it through. When Belmar was young, he would often sneak into the textile factory where his parents worked and observed the spinning of the threads upon the curves of the spools. This process intrigued Belmar to such effect, that it inspired the very foundation of his works, lending the curvilinear form and multilayered story enmeshed in them. The moving spools inspired him to add a visual element that would mimic the same visual momentum of lines and colors as they did back in the factory. A major series for Belmar highlights the disappearing indigenous groups and ethnic cleansing that are taking place all over the world. The Santiago born artist questions the cultural identity of an immigrant in today’s globalized world. With the widespread ethnic cleansing that has been going on since times immemorial to the recent Rohingya Refugee crisis in Myanmar, we are all too aware of such horrific and barbaric realities. Belmar, now a United States citizen, brings our attention to this by shedding light on the unexplored aspect of these acts by celebrating their lost culture through subtle infusions of their motifs in his multi-layered, moving productions.

Oratory © Joan Belmar

In this series, Belmar has also created non-mylar layered work which demonstrate strong three-dimensionality. He has encapsulated the utilitarian genocide of the indigenous Selk’nam people who lived in the Patagonian and Tierra Del Fuego Islands in Southern Argentina and Chile. Belmar depicts their land subtilties, art and body painted lines in his work, adding it to his own visual vocabulary and making sure their heritage is not lost. The hidden and exposed layers hint on the vulnerability of the groups, while the dotted patterns and lines celebrate the tribal motifs that have been passed down through generations. The frosted mylar sheets that cover the painted surfaces impart a texture that is akin to skin, further humanizing the work. The geometrical forms placed in such compositions, reminds one of constructivism. Belmar’s constructions too share those underlying traits. One might almost also remember Louise Nevelson’s boxes by seeing some of his works. In some of the pieces, the curves and luminosity of the untreated mylar sheets lend an impact as a medium. The abstracted layer- upon-layer process, shows how the artist carefully calculates the outcome of his work even before its initiation. Belmar has several other series including painted train windows that capture his journey back and forth to New York City and works that are inspired from maps. Each series would require an in-depth exploration as it has a whole new narrative to offer. His work is a series expanding from deeply personal reflections of identity to a response to extreme external events.

Joan Belmar - Zillman Museum GalleryView

In an interview with the Chilean migrant, here is what he had to say. Which series are you working on right now any how has you travel impacted your work? I have lived in many different countries and that has affected my work. Because when you travel, you have access to other cultures, people and other artists. I work in series. Right now, I am working on a series that uses more images that are related to social and political issues, but some series don’t have that. I think the fact that I am an immigrant affects my work. Why is the theme of the destruction of indigenous group central in one of your series?

I studied a group of people in Chile who were exterminated. Groups like these have a rich culture and I find that to be very unfair that one has power to destroy other people and their cultures.

Alchemy 2020 #5 © Joan Belmar

Why is Mylar a medium conducive to your expression?

Mylar as a material is archival. It is also very easy to paint and to sculpt. I am an American citizen now, but I don’t feel like I am totally here, the same thing happens back in Chile, although it’s my root, but I have changed. So now, I have need to express with a different material and create pieces that are not paintings and not sculptures. They look like paintings because they look frail and painted, but when you look closer, they are not flat, they are three dimensional- changing in color and they are moving all the time. How do incorporate elements while executing your layers?

When we are painting, we are lonely. But we are aware what is happening outside all the time with the news. That can affect you, and I have a need to express it. For example, some works are very minimal, don’t have images. When I am sad, lonely or blue, I paint series that are minimal with big areas of colors, like the work Black. I don’t use figures. I try to paint a feeling which could be desolation or uncertainness.

Volare © Joan Belmar

In what aspects has your heritage made contributions to your work?

People think that if you know how to draw and paint, you know how to make art, but that is not correct. You just know how to repeat a technique. You make yourself destroy all these elements to make something new, something personal and unique in some way. I don’t like to discard anything; I like to accumulate things as mediums and techniques. What is one of the challenges that you face?

Sometimes it’s very hard to convey three-dimensional work in photos. If you view it online, even if you have the best camera, it doesn’t reflect the same movement, the change of color, the work loses its optical illusion. That will only translate once you see the work.

Sphere #10 © Joan Belmar

Which are some of the artists that inspire you? There are many! Goya, Anish Kapoor, Tara Donovan and Caravaggio are a few. I admire them for different qualities and aspects. Tapies’ work which I saw in Spain were paintings which looked like sculptures. It was a very thick painting with plaster, almost like walls, and that really spoke out to me. I said wow! You can change the traditionality of painting. Goya of course- we as artists need to survive, it’s a very hard life. Goya found a way to work for the king and eventually created beautiful, personal work that probably for people was horrible, but he found a way to express himself outside the perception of the king and the monarchy and that was inspiring.

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