Judy Belasco (b. 1942) paints subtle, yet majestic coastal scenes. She spends her summers exploring the coast of Maine in search of these special places. With camera and sketchbook in hand, she captures the moment, and then recreates the experience on canvas back in her studio.
Belasco is drawn to places where the interplay of water, sky, and light are shaped by atmospheric weather. She uses fog or mist to separate foreground from the background, reality from spirituality. Her goal is to create a place where these two realms coexist. Belasco achieves this harmony by using a sophisticated color palette that subtlety binds them together.
Belasco grew up surrounded by art and knew at an early age that she wanted to be an artist. Her family lived in artist’s colonies in Germantown, Pennsylvania, during the winter, and Gloucester, Massachusetts, and Maine during the summer. Belasco’s father, Oliver Nuse, and her grandfather, Roy Nuse, were both fine artists. Roy was a Pennsylvania Impressionist of the New Hope School and taught at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. As a child, Belasco remembers being in awe of his paintings.
Belasco’s works echo the scale and converging horizon perspective of Martin Johnson Heade (1819–1904), whose salt marsh scenes marked a high point of American painting. Belasco's paintings are surprisingly free of angst despite their dedication to detail and brushwork precision. —Daniel Kany, Maine Sunday Telegram
Belasco won a painting scolarship to the Philadelphia College of Art. She eventually switched to photography. Ray Metzger and Martus Granirer were notable teachers. In 1972, a photograph by Belasco was included in a pretigious exhibit at MOMA of noted photographers titled “About Women.” Belasco also studied with five teachers at the Maine Photographic Workshop, most notably John Paul Caponigro.
Belasco returned to painting in the 1980’s. She honed her color theory and painting technique by studying with noted Maine artist Linden Frederick for several years.
Belasco was the art teacher at the Germantown Friends School, a Quaker preparatory school, a position she held for 32 years. In 2008, she retired to focus fulltime on her painting.
Belasco divides her time between Philadelphia and Maine, where she loves to explore the woods and coastline. She credits her family’s artistic legacy for shaping her love of nature and the arts. Belasco feels spiritually connected to nature through her painitng and hopes to share that experience with others.
July 7, 2013
by Daniel Kany
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Art Review: Bruno, Belasco and Page Work Well Together
Since it opened in 2006, the Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth has occupied an 1838 building listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The gallery has now expanded into its companion building, the old registry.
I was particularly drawn to a pair of his unusual paintings.
"Howard's Garden" is an effervescently disheveled composition of a Maine house whose front yard is piled with a jazzy collection of colorful stuff: Fencing, flowers and cast-off household bric-a-brac. It's a deceptively complex composition turning on a series of tall posts rising through the midst of the mayhem.
Howard's Garden, by Colin Page
Despite its sparky color, spatial development is the ultimate force in "Howard's Garden," and it takes the form of a cascade flowing down and toward the viewer.
Rather than domestic flotsam and jetsam, the dynamic elements of Page's "Under Repair" are the orange and blue stands used to shore up the dry-docked boat (also in a yard).
Hanging in the companion gallery are Judy Belasco's Maine coastal scenes bathed in quiet morning silver mist.
Belasco's works echo the scale and converging horizon perspective of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904), whose salt marsh scenes marked a high point of American painting. Belasco's paintings are surprisingly free of angst despite their dedication to detail and brushwork precision.
Her work hangs comfortably in the quirky (but handsome) space above wainscoting and amongst Greek Revival windows -- in a room bereft of parallel lines. (I imagine the building's eccentricities don't make installing shows particularly easy.)
In contrast, the new space just opened in the registry building features even floors and a long, flat wall. It's a nice combination of historic Maine and upscale gallery sophistication, and it breathes.
The first show in the annex showcases abstract paintings by Ragna Bruno. It's an unusual show for Maine insofar as it follows a mode of dry surface material abstraction usually associated with postwar European artists such as Alberto Burri (Italy, 1915-1995).
Bruno's paintings tend to be 4-foot squares of grid-oriented imagery in a dry, understated and earthy palette, almost like pastels age-faded to the brink of white.
"Blue Composition" reads like a simplified schematic of an envelope centered on the square canvas with its flap opened toward the left side of the canvas. This sense of unfurling backwards sustains the sense of nostalgia -- shared experience and love long ago -- that wistfully holds the show together.
Bruno's "Pompeii" looks to the ancient, frescoed city -- buried and then unearthed -- with a sense of emotional archeology.
The artist's music-oriented works echo this sense as well. Rather than scores still to be played, they feel like memories, now more texture than tune.
On one hand, "Musical Composition 2" looks like an ancient, desiccated version of Mondrian's "Broadway Boogie-Woogie" excavated from Pompeii, but because it pulses tonally rather than optically, it feels more like Edgard Varese than Duke Ellington.
By presenting the canvas as a complete thing -- found, rediscovered or remembered -- Bruno's work cuts to the quick of abstraction.
Whereas landscape painting is predicated by a sense of place, abstraction stipulates the physical presence of a painting.
While this might not ring out as a eureka moment for most readers, it matters that when Bruno presents music, for example, we see it as a complete system -- a structure, a gestalt or a whole.
Conversely, Page's landscapes turn on the extent to which the act of painting asserts its own presence. Each of his canvases proffers the question about how important the rendered trees or rocks are (i.e., illusion) compared to the strokes and physicality of the paint.
For Page, the answer changes from painting to painting. Not so with Bruno. The paintings and their self-aware systems and structures refuse to fold into the illusion of representational space. When imagery takes form (like in her small case in "Winter Trees"), it does so in a receding whisper.
There is mystery, but Bruno keeps it for herself, like cherished old love letters. We see this in the barely perceptible backwards writing on the surface of the painting in Spanish, and often starting with "solo" -- alone.
While you might think of Da Vinci or a libretto to be read from the other side, I saw reverse archeology, and quickly let them go as someone else's otherworldly and plaintively personal letters.
While most of my favorite abstract painting in Maine bristles with a vital edge (Mark Wethli, Ken Greenleaf, Thomas Flanagan, Garry Mitchell and Cassie Jones among them), Bruno's work dovetails elegantly with traditional Maine painting. It is quiet, atmospheric and contemplative. It's a broken romanticism wrapped in bittersweet knowledge rather than lusty sublime.
When I saw William Irvine's most recent paintings at Courthouse, I felt a place for Bruno as a Maine painter.
Irvine's newest paintings work harder than ever to clearly present the structural geometry underlying works like Bruno's. His "Lighthouse," for example, features a blue rectangle shooting straight across the image, playing the part of sea horizon before it shoots straight up towards the sky -- echoing the edge and form of the painting. It's beautiful as well as brilliant.
There is a great deal of excellent art now on view at Courthouse Gallery. And taken together, the shows by Belasco, Bruno and Page comprise a particularly interesting trio.
Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org