In 50 years as a working artist, Barney Bellinger has elevated the Adirondacks arts scene; marks milestone with dual shows
By Holly Riddle
Adirondack artist Barney Bellinger’s work spans more than five decades and just about as many mediums. From painting to woodwork, sculpture to rustic furniture, his body of work and his career as a self-taught artist have been a process of evolution.
He began painting motorcycles in his father’s garage; when a devastating fire destroyed his materials, metal shop and nearly two dozen motorcycles, he moved on to carved, gold leaf and painted signage and woodworking. After a while, he found his way to metal work and rustic furniture, the latter which is quintessential Adirondacks.
“He is one of the most iconic Adirondack artists alive right now and it was a real honor when he agreed that he would show a body of his work at the art center.”— Louise McNally, director of the Tupper Arts Center, discussing Bellinger’s current exhibition.
“His pieces are in the private collections of many of the major collectors, definitely in the Adirondacks, of art from here, and also collectors out in the Rockies, West Coast, Canada and Europe,” McNally adds. “He’s very humble and does not give out the names of the people or the collections his pieces are in, but it’s quite overwhelming. I just get tidbits of where his pieces are and how many people have collected them.”
Drawing from his surroundings
While Bellinger’s done a little bit of nearly everything, there’s one thing he’s never done — considered giving up his art.
“It’s in my soul,” he says. “Painting, creating — art is something I was given a gift with. I’ve never gone out and sought education for it. It’s been an evolutionary process of getting to where I am today. Sometimes… when people sit down and create, or do a painting, it’s about a creative process within your mind or within your soul that you can’t explain. You just do it.”
A prolific artist, when Bellinger isn’t busy creating (he’s been occupied working on more than 100 pieces over the last two years alone), one can find him in the great outdoors, one of his primary sources of inspiration. A native of Johnstown, Bellinger lives in Mayfield (Fulton County) and counts camping, hiking and trout fishing among his endeavors, and favorite Adirondack spots include the Moose River Plains and Keene Valley.
“[Moose River Plains] is a much a different landscape from your typical Adirondack [landscape], even though it’s in the Adirondacks,” he describes. “The ponds there and the Moose River offer a different sensibility as far as the trees and formations and how the wind has affected the big white pines. Then, if I want to see something a little more dramatic, I enjoy spending time in, and doing studies and sketches from, the Cascades and through Keene Valley.”
Twin shows in Tupper
Bellinger’s natural inspiration can be seen both in his work currently on display at two Tupper Lake locations: Tupper Arts Center and The Wild Center. The latter has paired Bellinger’s sculptures with musical composition from Eric Sturr for an interactive, outdoor experience set within the museum’s Forest Music Loop, entitled “Welded Steel: Shape, Form and Light.”
“The quarter-mile loop is lined with 24 hidden speakers that envelop visitors in a truly immersive sound experience,” describes Nick Gunn, The Wild Center’s marketing manager. “We had worked with [Sturr] on the Wild Lights project in December 2020, so we knew he would knock this one out of the park as well.” According to Gunn, the two worked hand-in-hand so that Sturr understood the inspiration and spirit of Bellinger’s work. “I think the finished product is a magical experience in the woods.”
Meanwhile, the exhibition at Tupper Arts Center encompasses paintings, sculpture, furniture and design pieces from over the course of Bellinger’s career, with a significant portion of the center’s nearly 4,000 feet of gallery space dedicated to his work.
“We were able to give Barney significant space and freedom to create what he wanted, when he created this room,” explains McNally. “We really gave him great freedom and he, in turn, gave us something wonderful, very imaginative and creative and unique. It’s not something you’ll likely see somewhere else.”
The selection of work, she says, will appeal to those who love traditional, Adirondack twig and rustic furniture work, but also those who appreciate more contemporary and modern sculptural and metal pieces. “Some of these pieces,” she notes, “Would be best in an Adirondack cabin, and some would be best in a Tribeca loft.”
Wherever Bellinger’s work ends up, though (and his work ends up in quite a few places, with clients all around the globe), he aims to offer something original and surprising.
“I like to… take someone’s eye on a journey, so if they’re looking at a piece of furniture, they don’t figure it out in the first five minutes, but maybe a week after they’ve bought it, they notice something they hadn’t seen before,” he says. “I want to do something someone else hasn’t done. I want to be original. I strive to mix all these different mediums together and keep creating the quintessential piece. Even with my deconstructed taxidermy, it’s not about showing something that’s morbid; it’s about telling what’s beneath the surface. I like to discover what’s beneath the surface with many things.”
If you go
The Tupper Arts Center exhibition ends Sept. 15, but, shortly after, by October, a smaller, more minimalistic Bellinger exhibition will take its place, including new, steel sculpture furniture pieces, new paintings and new light fixtures.
The Forest Music Loop at the Wild Center will display “Welded Steel: Shape, Form and Light” through April 1, 2022.