Loriel Beltrán (b. 1985, Caracas, Venezuela; lives and works in Miami, FL) creates sculptural accumulations of paint and color that defy traditional notions of artistic media. Poetically merging painting and sculpture, the artist states that his works “resist becoming images” and instead materialize color in its full complexity. Situating his work between the legacy of Latin American modernism and postwar painting in the United States, Beltrán dissolves distinctions between image and object, surface and substance, plane and structure. While the artist considers perceptual effects, he remains equally invested in issues of materiality, process, and industry, foregrounding artistic labor and the residue it leaves behind.
Many of Beltrán’s works consider the interplay between particular combinations of colors, often indicated by technical abbreviations in his works’ titles. Beltrán has described the resulting works as “panels of code,” and rather than depicting a single image, they suggest a distinct visual language, replete with numerous possibilities for imagery. The artist’s surfaces are composed of layers of paint that have dried to create vibrating optical effects. To create his works, Beltrán produces custom molds and pours paint into them, allowing the paint to harden and dry over time. The artist sometimes integrates objects into his molds–such as leftover materials or detritus from his studio–to introduce “interruptions” into his compositions. He repeats this process for months or even years, as layers of paint coagulate and accumulate. The artist then removes the mold and slices the resulting object–a hardened block with swirls and layers of color–into strips using a custom-built machine. The strips are arranged into bold, planar compositions, which he adheres to a wooden substrate.
Beltrán was born in Venezuela and immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and he has cited a number of Venezuelan artists as significant influences. He identifies points of connection, for instance, between the physicality of his painted strips and Gego’s notion of the line as object, while his perceptually complex compositions also gesture to histories of the Op and Kinetic art movement in Venezuela, with the work of artists such as Jesús Rafael Soto and Carlos Cruz-Diez embedded in his visual memory. As a diasporic Miami-based artist, Beltrán locates his work at the intersection of a variety of art histories and traditions across the Americas. He identifies significant points of connections with a number of postwar United States artists, evoking Jack Whitten's material experimentations, Lynda Benglis's pours, Agnes Martin's organic grids, the notion of the flatbed picture plane in Jackson Pollock’s work, Mark Rothko’s exploration of the color’s expressive potential, and Robert Morris’s engagement of chance and gravity, among others.
Beltrán resolutely asserts color’s materiality and its connections to labor and process as he explores its optical effects. Across his practice, Beltrán examines how color and light attach themselves to matter and form to suggest tactile, physical presences. The artist is struck by the way that color, while produced by light, also maintains connections to matter–emanating from the sun, extracted from minerals, produced as pigment. Beltrán’s practice grew out of his initial fascination with the buildup of dried paint on his palette, and his works likewise draw upon an aesthetics of accumulation, reflecting a similar attention to the remnants of artmaking and the traces that color leaves behind. As his surfaces accumulate layers of paint, so too do they accumulate layers of memory and meaning.
Registering acts of artistic labor and visualizing the passage of time, Beltrán’s works evidence a slow and demanding physical process. The artist has stated that prior jobs in construction, fabrication, and installation continue to inform his artistic practice and his relationship to materiality. Beltrán’s work manifests this labor and physical exertion, and he distinguishes artistic labor from other forms of labor precisely because of its visibility. “Regular labor is meant to be invisible. If you see how a wall was painted, it's a bad job,” he states. “Artistic labor is meant to be seen, or to expose itself.”
Beltrán earned his B.F.A from the New World School of the Arts, Miami, FL. Recent solo exhibitions of his work include Over the Sun, Under the Earth (2022), CENTRAL FINE, Miami, FL; Constructed Color, Museum of Art and Design, Miami, FL (2021); and New Old Paintings, CENTRAL FINE, Miami, FL (2020), Beltrán’s work has also been exhibited in a number of significant group exhibitions, including Cut: Abstraction in the U.S. from the 1970s to the Present, Frost Art Museum, Miami, FL (2019); GUCCIVUITTON, Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Miami, FL (2015); T.A.Z., Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami, FL (2015); Global Positioning Systems: Urban Imaginaries, Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL (2014); and Liquid Matter, The Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia, PA (2011). Beltrán was also a co-founder and co-director of the artist-run gallery and collective Noguchi Breton (formerly GUCCIVUITTON). His work is included in a number of notable private and public collections, including the de la Cruz Collection, Miami FL; Institute of Contemporary Art Miami, Miami, FL; and Pérez Art Museum Miami, Miami, FL, among others.
Artist portrait by Oriol Tarridas