The two predominant modes of categorizing paintings are describing them as abstract or figurative, and pronouncing them to be more “realistic” if closer to a photographic image. Neither is of any use in considering Len Bellinger’s work (or Sfraga’s either, about which more later.)
Bellinger’s sketchbook is a series of postcard-sized reproductions from which he has removed or painted over “nonessential elements.” What remains becomes the basis for his paintings. That’s what he told me, and added so many references and allusions to disparate imagery that I begged him to stop and let me look at the paintings without his guidance.
I do not claim to understand them fully—perhaps not at all. Bellinger starts with constructing a custom support for each one that is usually neither squared nor flat and then adds paint, staples, plaster and stuff. This process may take years, I notice from the dates. I don’t know what I’m looking at but they do carry conviction—the kind of conviction that Richard Dreyfus displayed in Close Encounters while constructing a mountain out of mud in his living room.
The action in the paintings is all up in the air. What little earth there is stays at the bottom of the canvas or is seen from a great height. Bellinger is a superhero rising into the sky to battle with elemental forces, nothing as banal as aliens—real entities like hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical depressions or powerful unwanted thoughts.
Bellinger told me the shapes in ttm.marga (see above) were the shadows of bulls from Goya. I see them as fleeing greyhounds, or winged creatures, maybe a helicopter too, racing across the sky. This painting causes me some uneasiness. What are they fleeing—fire or flood or war—should I start running too? Like now?
It is uncanny how this black shape with two round ends and two tails creates massive space. Again I am not sure where I am and how this fascinating unknown phenomenon will affect me but I can’t take my eyes off of it. The red cliffs pointing upward and dripping down are imperfectly painted masses of staples; they glint light.
The paintings constantly suggest known images without ever becoming anything specific. Their process seems to be the opposite of Clyfford Still’s removal of recognizable imagery—they achieve abstraction by being about too many images to grasp.
Dare I say that Bellinger’s paintings are exterior and masculine and Sfraga’s are interior and feminine?
The ostensible subject matter, poisonous plants (watch out Len!) does not seem to cover their possible meanings. The surfaces of the paintings and drawings are lush and luminous in a way not completely explained by the materials used. Dark moist botanical wombs surge with fecundity and devise multiple and clever ways to enable some of their offspring to survive.
They seem to say, “If that means poisoning a few individuals rash or hungry enough to sample us, so be it.”
The study of nature presents us with a conundrum. Consider there are two hundred seeds on a single strawberry, ten thousand acorns in a good year for the oak tree in front of my house— of which not one will make a tree.
Can the purpose of life simply be to create—more life? If that is true for plants, animals, insects and the lower forms, logically it must be true for us—a disturbing thought. I see the eyes in Sfraga’s work which may be seedpods, glaring balefully—or banefully—as I formulate it.