Alain Bellanger, American (1953 - )

Alain Bellanger
Pumpkins, watermelons, cherries, apples and leeks, sunflowers and cow-parsley in rampant profusion fill the paintings of Alain Bellanger, transporting us into the depths of the fertile countryside of France, brimming with agricultural, mostly edible, produce – rich ripe fruits, vegetables and flowering plants.
Alain Bellanger was born in France in 1953, the son of a house painter. Always good at drawing at school, he went on to study architecture and building, which he didn’t enjoy, and then, persuaded against the risks of life as an artist, worked in a cigarette factory for 13 long years, painting at home at night.

Finally in 1981, at the age of 28, he began to paint seriously, to get his work exhibited and to sell pictures. He experimented with traditional still-lifes, figure studies and other subjects. But then one day a pile of crimson beetroot in a field arrested his attention, and led to other paintings of massed vegetables and fruits – ripe pumpkins became a speciality. There were difficult times - at one low point he took up cooking as a potential alternative career. Then he began to have ever greater success with his paintings (“I don’t know why”), and now he works for about 12 hours every day, from midday to midnight on the pastels he loves. “I love my work, but I am a prisoner of it,” he says. All his other interests – potholing, even gardening (“I adore gardening”), have been left behind for his art. Now at 50, he is still a bachelor (“I love women too much to get married,” he quips). Dressed in his gardener’s apron, he works in an old mill in the depths of rural France.

Alain is a veteran of over 20 exhibitions in France, including 5 in Paris, a major one-man show in London and group shows in New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Stockholm.

Alain’s considerable skills are entirely self-taught – he sought but did not find a ‘master’ to train him, and has resisted the influence of earlier painters.

The originality of his style lies partly in his choice of subject – he does not illustrate individual botanical specimens, nor fruits artificially assembled in a formal “still life”, but huge congregations of one kind of plant in its natural state – sunflower crops standing in a field, apples and cherries piled together after picking, windfallen apples lying together in clumps on the grass.

Bellanger’s paintings, teeming with subtle gradations of colour – he works entirely in pastels on paper – also tend to be big and bold – the largest up to 30 by 40 inches in size – and overflowing with the energy of their subjects. Scores of apples, regiments of sunflowers, legions of leeks, each subject fills the frame, almost bursting out of it, vigorous and vibrant. “My pastels need to be full to overflowing,” he says. “They are like an orchestra of colours and objects, and I feel like Richard Wagner.” (He also loves Mozart and Frank Zappa).

But Bellanger’s realism is not merely factual representation. It also captures specific moments in time, expressing something of the passing of time, the brevity of freshness, vigour and by implication, life – before the onset of decay. The first browning signs of rot on the skin of the apples, the short-lived juiciness of sliced watermelons, even the sunlight filtering through the leaves, suggests the impending approach of evening. Decay – “la pourriture” is one of his persistent subjects – “I think it’s beautiful – I’ve been painting it for ten years, but it’s never the same picture twice.”

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