Mark Beldan, Fence, 2013. Installation view of Psychic Freefall at Amatorska.
A conversation with London-based artist Mark Beldan.
Much of your work deals with the landscape. What draws you to paint a particular place?
When I was a kid, at the end of my road, there was an abandoned bungalow. It seemed ancient but it probably had been built in the 1950s. The rest of the neighborhood was newly built and somehow this slightly older house ended up disused, stranded between the new development and the highway. It stood there for years with the windows smashed and the doors ajar. Rumours went around my school that it was haunted, that all sorts of horrible things lurked inside.
Feeling brave one summer afternoon, I went into the house with some other kids. There was a stained mattress in one room, there were a few beer bottles and cigarette butts, but mostly there were just huge piles of rotting undelivered newspapers. It was a teenage hangout. The ghost stories were totally functional, they stopped little kids like us hanging around or reporting back to parents.
Mark Beldan, Hedge, 2012.
It’s not a place I’ve painted- it was torn down soon after and I have no clue where I’d find a photograph- but it’s exactly the sort of place I’m interested in. Somewhere familiar but neglected with all these narratives of varying reliability floating about.
Whilst the majority of your work depicts outdoor spaces, in paintings such as ‘Chairs’ we see a concentration on the interior. Do you see this as a new phase of your work?
It opens up some new possibilities, but I don’t think it’s a radical change. I’ve been exhibiting exterior and interior paintings together. Even the landscapes represent quite confined spaces. The view is often boxed in by the front of a house or a hedge, the sky is one flat block of colour. It’s quite an intimate viewpoint. And the interiors are gradually becoming a flat view of one wall, or of one object against a wall, almost flat still-lives.
Maybe it’s a stretch to compare painting and writing, but I often find myself thinking about Shirley Jackson or James Purdy or even “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The way that limits play on the mind. The strictures of being stuck in one house or one town. Despite the depopulated look of the paintings, I think they’re totally shaped by people. The sort of landscape I work with is a bit like an interior, modified and occupied and not very wide open at all.
Mark Beldan, Chairs, 2011.
You frequently draw inspiration from the (often bizarre) stories of real-life crimes. Is it important to you that the viewer is aware of these narratives?
I suppose I’m always hoping that things will work in the opposite way, that exploring such stories changes the way the paintings look. Often crime scene photos don’t really show anything, they just document a specific place and time. There can be an odd lack of compositional focus, it can be hard to determine a point of interest. To an extent I’m using this oddness or blankness to infer an event, and perhaps it’s even more intriguing if the viewer doesn’t know the original story.
Having said that, I do have a tendency to start telling stories when asked about my work. Perhaps a narrative is more like a painting, you choose things carefully but it’s not necessarily a rational arrangement. Unlike a straightforward explanation, you can revisit it in different ways later on. The things you thought were superfluous might be essential, and vice versa.
Over the past year you’ve exhibited in some unusual situations and locations, for instance in Daniel Kelly’s DKUK pop-up salon at Ancient & Modern Gallery and at Amatorska for your solo show in June, where you showed your work alongside domestic appliances and furniture. What attracts you to spaces such as these?
Recently I went to see the filmmaker Mike Kuchar speak. He was talking about one of the conditions he needed to experiment- to work with people that trust he’ll come up with something good, when even he can’t predict the outcome. I think beyond the unconventional locations, there was a degree of that trust that brought out new things at both these shows. It wasn’t so much experimenting with painting, but with how paintings might be presented.
Mark Beldan, Rose, 2013. Installation view of DKUK, Ancient & Modern Gallery.
DKUK was an accumulative installation, involving a number of different artists, around a hairdressing salon. It was quite chaotic, I could only really hang paintings as if they were elements in a collage. Oh, and out of hairspray range. I also assembled a soundtrack of hours of old pop songs for the salon, a sort of radio station of domestic dysfunction- “I Can Never Go Home Anymore”, “Seven Rooms Of Gloom”, “Lonely Street”. The TV had Douglas Sirk movies playing silently. It was fun to push things in a slightly melodramatic direction, in a very full space, working quickly.
I had a bit more time with Psychic Freefall, the show at Amatorska. I suppose the initial thought was that it would be great to show paintings of houses in domestic space. But it turned out that the best thing about Amatorska was the freedom to play around, the lack of a set template for how a show might happen there. So there was a slightly neurotic press release, a painting balanced on the refrigerator behind a bowl of fruit, and generally quite an idiosyncratic hang. It all just evolved and happened in such an happy and intuitive way.
Are there any new projects on the horizon for you?
I think there’s also going to be a solo show above a pub in North London later next year. I’m quite hooked on working independently at the moment. I think it would also be great to put together an exhibition of the paintings in a slightly intimidating space. So at the moment I suppose I’m searching for a scary basement with a sympathetic landlord.
For more on Mark Beldan’s work, visit http://markbeldan.blogspot.co.uk.