Judith Belzer, Leaves #2, 1996, oil on canvas, unframed, 22 × 36 inches. All images courtesy of Berry-Hill Gallery.
When I stand before Judith Belzer’s leaf-lavish canvases, I find my mind’s eye crawling hands and knees through thick underbrush, looking for what—my lost baseball, ripe berries, a childhood sanctum? The point is I’m compelled beyond the surface and beyond the seemingly simple context of blurred foliage and suffusive light that defines the world of each painting. I am engaged in a powerful subjective search for some things lost and some things yet to be had.
Belzer’s tradition is pictorial. While her earlier work relied on the natural beauty of tranquil riparian settings—the kinds of places where a duck might safely nest, or picnickers lounge—this new work, though still quite descriptive of the natural world, is more abstract, and so it’s more active. Not only has she stepped up her level of expression, she’s achieved a penetrating dimensionality. These are not just leaves deconstructed by the solvent of abstractionism. They are leaf-like nebulosities which appear to be coming into being the way light resolves through a telescope to become celestial objects.
Without any of the dimensional references ordinarily used to engineer perspective—no horizon, no vanishing point, etc.—and nothing to establish a context of scale, Belzer manages her light to compel our gaze in exploratory, investigative ways. By restricting her focus to a shallow, photographic depth of field, she allows whatever leaf, twig, or clump of bright berries which happens to land in that plane an accidental clarity. After that, whatever else her brush intuits, insinuates, or implies, takes care of itself. It’s interesting that by staying “shallow” Belzer achieves so much depth.