Brian Belott is a master collagist whose sensitivity to his materials transcends the kitschier qualities of his work and helps create a blissfully homespun aesthetic all his own. For The Joy of File, the artist constructs a sort of modern day cabinet of curiosities, offering a glimpse into the swirling world of his obsessive scavenging projects, where thrift store picture frames, old children’s books and abandoned family snapshots are carefully collected and sorted only to be radically transformed into elegantly sloppy abstractions. Utilizing glitter, tinfoil and neon paint—traditionally tools of the suburban childhood arts and crafts table—Belott is in constant conversation with our shared memories of youth. Strolling past the densely collaged walls of his installation, as the subtle sounds of found cassette tapes drift overhead, is akin to revisiting in a dream the corridors of a once familiar elementary school that has now been warped by our own nostalgia and very adult minds.
Vast expanses of space are peopled with lost photographs, which mingle mischievously amidst graphic scraps of textbook pages and lushly hand-painted swaths of paper. Here and there, patches of glitter define biomorphic shapes. Vivid oversized combs float delicately in waves of red spray paint. Wooden clothespins and dangling house keys are strung together into a visual pun of a piano keyboard, which wraps around the entire bottom of the installation. Yet, as wildly complex as some of the walls can get, each is anchored by a single larger framed picture. These more or less standard art objects help us navigate through the almost overwhelming visual cacophony.
One particular “glass work” (a painting which incorporates a found frame and its glass) playfully evokes both the Bauhaus constructions of Joseph Albers and the geometric austerity of Ad Reinhardt with a crooked grid. The clumsy and almost slapdash use of brightly colored foil serves as a goofy response to the heady expectations of abstract formalism. Another smaller grid painting is built from Styrofoam packing square that have been awkwardly glued to a small pre-stretched canvas and drenched in luminous acrylics.
While such materials and techniques are often viewed as the tools of an unabashed appropriation of low culture, the artist employs them here with nary a hint of irony. Instead, his work forces us to acutely confront that strange moment in childhood development when innate creativity and serious art-making become sadly disconnected entities. In Belott’s world, the kids have run amok in the classroom. Their imaginations refuse to be confined to a finite period of time—like recess. They have brazenly rejected the notion that the products of their inspiration be relegated to hang on the refrigerator door. By obliterating any hierarchical distinctions between hand-made crafting and high art strategizing, Brian Belott is able to harness force of his wild creative energies into a highly refined and joyful dissertation on our collective inner child.