It's easy to be overwhelmed when standing in front of one of Leon Belsky's outsized still-lives.
These imposing images convey a deep respect for natural forms in the manner of so many great works from the romantic tradition. But while painters like Friedrich and Turner would find awesome beauty in the sea and sky, Belsky zeroes in on nature's smaller bounty and projects it large. Giant pears, vast tulips: here's nature in its magnified grandeur. Respect it. Know your place.
Of course, these supremely imposing images wouldn't have their majesty were it not for a technique honed by Belsky over five decades. The Russian has an immaculate CV, having been schooled at the Moscow Surikov Academy for Fine Arts and accepted into the Union of Russian Artists before emigrating in 1990. All his working life, Belsky has dedicated himself to the mastery of light and composition. As he says: “I enjoy working with light and I favour unusual perspectives that emphasise the rhythm of the structure, the abstract geometry of the composition and the dynamics of the shapes, strokes, lines and colours inside it. With this process, I try to capture qualities that are universal rather than temporal. Belsky's interest in the ‘abstract geography’ of his still-lives is evident in the titles he gives them.
Thus, a bowl of fruit becomes Purple Unity while five painstakingly composed pears are named Blue Serenity. There's an almost mathematical precision in the way these works examine light, perspective and colour – and Belsky is so in control he pulls it off every time. But these lofty aims don't preclude a little humour. For example, the artist is happy enough to place two lemons ona metal plinth and call the resulting work Winners. Makes you wonder if there's a disappointed grapefruit somewhere wearing a bronze medal.
Belsky's work is exhibited all over the world, and his reputation is such that some fourteen years ago he was elected to the Ontario Society of Artists – the oldest art organisation in his adopted country of Canada and the Government of Ontario has several of his works in their permanent collection. What a treat it is to welcome this renowned international artist back to the Catto Gallery after three years, and to give European fans a chance to stand awed before his work again.