Remotely Sensing William Betts (at Plus Gallery in Denver)
William Betts is getting noticed. At least that’s what a recent announcement in Artdaily.org tells readers. Betts is a Houston-based artist who paints using a complex painting machine and proprietary software designed by the artist. He is represented by Richard Levy Gallery in Albuquerque, which reported to Artdaily that they sold out of all of Betts paintings at the recent Pulse Art Fair in New York. New American Paintings awarded Betts their Annual Prize earlier this year and the artist was also selected for inclusion in a group show called “Tracing the Grid” currently on view at the Kunstmuseum in Stuttgart, Germany. Ivar Zeile of Plus Gallery said these two things were “a strong indication that the international collector market is acknowledging [Betts] work and career at the highest level.”
Whatever that means.
Betts is a spiking trend in the art world. But one wonders if it’s for the quality of his aesthetic output or the technological savvy of his process. His paintings feature microdots of acrylic paint machined on canvas or manually dripped into small holes drilled into mirrors. The subject matter of the paintings in “Remote Sensing” is surveillance-themed images clipped from fuzzy security cameras in airports, train stations and more. Plus Gallery owner and director Ivar Zeile suggests that there is nothing else like them in the world, but in fact this sort of work is currently trending in contemporary art. Take that security camera footage and recreate it in paint, use the ideas as themes for performance art ala Electroland, Hehe or installation works by Hasan Elahi. Regina Parra, Kon Trubokovich, Andy Denzler explore the idea in photography, watercolor and oil paints. Currently on display at MCA Denver is an exhibit made up of banned TSA items called “Guarded” by Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin collectively called Type A. The biggest difference is that Betts does it using a machine and not simply using traditional or accepted art making tools and forms.
Betts’s color palette is soft and pastel utilizing pinks, blues, greens, purples, cream, yellows, grays, mints, lilacs and taupes. The colors are intended to be warm, but they cannot warm the lack of intimacy in his works.
“In some respects, that traditional intimacy between the artist, canvas and the paint is totally corrupted,” Betts told Modern in Denver magazine. “As a painter today, I like to see how far I can get from those traditions and forms.”
Pointillism, which was created by George Seurat and Paul Signac, is where the roots of micro-dot painting can be found. My initial reaction to Betts’s work was that it was cold, distant and uncomfortable . The works are banal, and I found myself more fascinated with the machining technique and the imperfect results, the blobs of paint bleeding together rather than forming perfect circles. The mirror images are more powerful inviting the viewer to see their own reflection in the odd security images of bathers at swimming pools and near beaches. The reflective quality of the surface providing a hint of intimacy lacking in the larger paintings, a hint that is also deeply unsettling to the viewer as they become part of the art. But they are from an earlier series and not officially part of the current exhibition.
I left the gallery remotely sensing that Betts’ work was more passing fad than brilliance. I have no doubt that he has made a name for himself in the art world and that he will be remembered. He told Modern in Denver magazine, “The real important part about painting is what’s between the painting and the thought.” And it is that part that left me cold.