By PAUL LASTER, Sept. 2018
A New York-based painter who splits her time between the city and Far Rockaway, Andrea Belag creates sumptuous and shimmering abstractions that purely explore the medium. Using a variety of paints, tools and actions, she makes paintings that layer color in an energetic yet meditative way. The subject of a current solo show at Philip Slein Gallery in St. Louis titled Beachcomber, Belag recently spoke to Whitehot about her inspiration and process.
Whitehot Magazine: Have you always been an abstract painter?
Andrea Belag: I paint abstract images. There is no consensus as to what these terms mean, but for me my paintings represent an emotional or psychological space. They are not about art so much as about me.
WM: Are you abstracting reality or painting from your imagination?
AB: I use my imagination to transform my experience into color and space and light. When I am painting everything becomes available as subject matter. I try not to force an image, but allow it to emerge from a thought.
WM: How would you identify your style of abstraction?
AB: Style is a dead-end, but I have a point of view. I love transparency and the touch of materials, so I have created a way of painting where I make this possible. I use mostly transparent pigments and fine linen, and I paint wet into wet. The marks are on one layer of the painted surface with very little overlap or pentimento. Color makes space and light comes through the paint.
WM: Did you study with anyone that became an influence?
AB: Philip Guston was a strong influence, although I have worked hard to not make that visible. In 1970, I was on a Greek Island pondering what to do with my life and how to do it, when I saw a reproduction of a Philip Guston painting, Painter’s Table, in the International Herald Tribune. That was what I wanted to do! I went back to New York and enrolled in the New York Studio School, where he was teaching.
WM: Are there artists from the past that you see as points of departure for your work?
AB: Once I was called Rothko on acid, and I always learn from Matisse, but in the past few years I have been taking cues from new sources. Japanese Zen Gardens, Bill Traylor and petrified rocks, for instance. I see an affinity with Georgia O’Keefe and Helen Frankenthaler, but I do not study them. I want to stay a comfortable distance away from painters that overlap with my interests.
WM: Has your work evolved over time?
AB: It has evolved over time, but I recently looked at the first painting I did and there were striking similarities. It takes a long time to be able to use color with intelligence and that grows with time. I have also had a flip-flop with certain kinds of new-image-like representation that no longer holds my eye.
WM: What’s the thread that holds your oeuvre together?
AB: Light and emotion
WM: Do you paint all the time or primarily in series or for exhibitions?
AB: I am always painting. If I don’t have a show scheduled I paint an imaginary show. Twice in the recent past I have been invited to show my work with little notice and I was all set to go. Even so, I painted a new painting just to keep me on edge. There is fear and desire in painting, and that’s addictive.
WM: What role does color play in your work?
AB: Color is a big part of my work. With each painting I use colors in different combinations, some known and some not. For a while I used combinations I found in a book in a Japanese museum. I don’t know what the original purpose was for the book, but it was a good way for me to try new color relationships. Using found colors prevents decisions to be a matter of my taste.
WM: Do you mix your colors or are they straight from the tube?
AB: I mix some colors for each painting and there is a range of hues I use straight from the tube. There are some colors that I banish for periods of time because I have used them too much.
WM: Oil or acrylic or gouache or watercolor, what’s your favorite?
AB: Oil paint and watercolor are my favorite mediums. I have used gouache, but I don’t take advantage of its opacity so I no longer use it. I use oil paint like watercolor in some ways. Now I am experimenting wetting the linen before I begin the painting.
WM: Paper or canvas?
AB: My first love is paper. I love the smooth surface and its delicate touch. As a student I had to force myself to use and think with canvas because I didn’t want my work to be limited. Now I use hand-made papers that are tissue thin and I paint on oil primed fine linen. When I fail it’s a mess.
WM: How physical is the action of making a painting for you?
AB: I paint standing up, leaning over and often walking around my painting. Its very physical and I want it that way. I once saw a guy painting while sitting and wearing bedroom slippers—I couldn’t believe it! Anyway, its play for me.
WM: Do you prefer motion or stillness?
AB: I am always moving and walking in the studio. I don’t have one of those big chairs where you sit back and look at the work. I gave that up when I stopped smoking. I more or less know when the painting is complete while I am painting even before it goes upright. Of course, when I am wrong it is terrible.
WM: Have you ever made sculpture?
AB: I am not ready to take on sculpture.
WM: If you weren’t a painter, what would you want to be?
AB: I might want to work in a laboratory and look through a microscope all day, but this answer changes weekly. WM
Andrea Belag: Beachcomber remains on view at Philip Slein Gallery in St. Louis through October 13, 2018.
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.
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