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‘Hyperallergic’ Q&A with SVA Alumnus Brian Belott on the Power of Children’s Art

From Hyperallergic: “Brian Belott’s work is a lesson in the eccentric and ecstatic. His aesthetic is evident not only in his choice of colors (every hue under the sun, frequently in a single painting) and materials – which have included artificial bread, socks, calculators, hair, aquarium rocks, shoelaces, remote controls, and a lot of cotton batting – but also in his intense curiosity in the margins of culture and his interest in the amateur aspects of art. In the early and mid nineties, Belott attended the Cooper Union and the School of Visual Arts in New York, but his paintings, even now, display an unschooled, adventurous, and exuberant sensibility. He is fearless in his experimentation.

His latest exhibition—Dr. Kid President Jr. at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise—is a case in point. This is the third iteration of the show (he first mounted it at 247365 in New York in 2015, and then at Pancake Epidemic in Los Angeles in 2016) and the largest by far. The show is tripartite and hung salon-style in the gallery’s high-ceilinged space: some three hundred drawings and paintings from the Rhoda Kellogg International Children’s Art Collection; fifty of Belott’s own paintings; and multimedia works produced in an art classroom, inside the gallery, by local New York City schoolchildren. Kellogg (1898–1987) was a psychologist and early-childhood educator and the director of the Phoebe A. Hearst Preschool Learning Center (part of the Golden Gate Kindergarten Association, in San Francisco) for nearly three decades. During that time, she amassed a staggering collection of art made by children between the ages of two and eight. Belott’s discovery of her collection intersected with his own work at the time and forms the basis of this new exhibition.

Last week, the artist walked me through the show, as a group of first graders from P.S. 129 chattered and painted in the art classroom.

Nicole Rudick: Why a show of kids’ art?

Brian Belott: Kid’s art’s been a long-time passion, something I’ve always loved — not only the innocence, but the exuberance of how things are done. A child wakes up in the morning with so much energy, and I try, in my own practice, no matter what I do, to tap into that hyper-spazzy energy that slowly gets shut down as you enter the adult world. As an artist, I’m into celebratory stuff. I’d much rather create a dance party than a pity party. I’m not too interested in Francis Bacon, for instance, because I don’t like to deal with the torture of being a mortal meat pocket, you know? I was lucky enough that my parents kept a lot of my own art, so I have maybe two hundred examples of stuff I did when I was a kid. When I started going to college, I tried to copy my own childhood work. That didn’t really work out.

NR: What was the problem?

BB: It felt too loaded, because it came from my psyche when I was young – pirates, laboratories, and robots, Star Wars. And when I was confronted with that psyche, as an adult, at Cooper, it was a little too much. It was easier to find children’s art on the street. I lived in New Jersey at the time and was surrounded by schools, so I would just dumpster dive. My mom was a teacher, and at the end of her school year I would go to her classroom and whatever was left I would keep. I’ve been amassing a collection of children’s art for a long while…” (For the full interview and more images, click here)

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