The exciting thing about art is the opportunity to see and experience the world through the eyes of the artist. Bringing her own unique way of seeing to the Phoenix Gallery in Park City is Sherri Belassen, an Arizona artist whose work is distinguished by her process of layering oil paint to achieve expressive, colorful works with both humor and depth.
Though some of Belassen’s work has been in the Phoenix for a few months, she will be their featured artist in an exhibition of 20 paintings that opens February 26. Describing her work as “figurative-abstract” and “multi-layered,” Belassen shared with me the process that yields large, colorful paintings with exaggerated, or stylized, figures, and other interesting shapes on a ground that dances with smaller shapes through which the viewer can see the “history,” of the painting, the many layers leading to the final work.
“Underpainting is very important,” Belassen tells me. Using a very loose, colorful, abstract wash of turpentine-thinned paint, Belassen covers the surface intuitively, not necessarily knowing what the finished painting will be, unless it’s a commission for a specified subject. When the first layer dries Belassen may repeat this process a few more times until she’s satisfied with the underpainting.
“Sometimes I do a pen and ink drawing,” she says, before beginning the subject layers of the painting. She may turn the painting on all sides considering what subject it suggests. Then she draws the figure(s) onto the underpainting using a brush and a “fun color.”
As for subjects, Belassen most enjoys painting semi-abstract figures, thinking about relationships among figures or “how the figure might feel in that space.”
Next, Belassen blocks in some big shapes of color using either palette knife or brush, being careful as she works to leave open areas for the underpainting to show through. She likes a smooth finish on her paintings, so she may scrape or sand the paint in places to smooth the surface. For her final layers, she uses Liquin as a medium with her oil paint.
For Belassen “color is very important. Color can give a painting a sense of power and strength.” As she works on a series of paintings for a show or for a commission, she may choose a similar color palette – predominately reds, or blues, or creams, for example.
Because she tends to work large (typically 48 x 72 inches), and because it takes time for the layers in the underpainting to dry in between layers, it may take a few weeks to complete a painting. But Belassen insists she has no timer driving the completion of a painting. She has several works in progress concurrently, so there’s always something to do as layers dry.
Sue Martin holds an M.A. in Theatre and has worked in public relations. As an artist, she works in watercolor, oil, and acrylic to capture Utah landscapes or the beauty of everyday objects in still life.