Beyond Realism: The Works of Kent Bellows 1970-2005
When Omaha artist Kent Bellows passed away prematurely in 2005, he was at the height of his technical skills, producing delicately rendered pencil, graphite, and charcoal drawings and meticulously detailed paintings, most often of friends and family, that masterfully capture the "reality" of the observed world. Bellows' work had earned him prestigious New York gallery representation, inclusion in museum and private collections across the country, and a permanent place within the tradition of realist endeavor. Nevertheless, the retrospective Beyond Realism: The Works of Kent Bellows 1970-2005 at Joslyn Art Museum is the first full-scale presentation anywhere of Bellows' art. The exhibition features over 70 paintings, drawings, and prints — painstakingly crafted portraits and hyper-realistic paintings — all with visual surprises and psychological undercurrents that belie their status as mere imitations of actual things. Beyond Realism sheds light on a complicated and provocative artist whose sensitive intellect and creative facility worked to produce images of great beauty, emotional depth, and humanity. (Read more after Exhibition Events & Programs)

Exhibition Catalogue
Beyond Realism, a book by Dr. Hutton and a project of the Kent Bellows Studio & Center for Visual Arts, is available in Joslyn's Hitchcock Museum Shop ($24.95 hard cover; $14.95 soft cover).

Exhibition Events & Programs
Thursday, November 18, 2010 @ 6 pm —Drawing Reality
A gallery discussion with artist Paul Otero, a friend and peer of the late Kent Bellows.
Joslyn Members and Joslyn Art Students are free.
General public: free with regular Museum admission.

Thursday, December 2, 2010 @ 6:30 pm —Public Lecture
Molly S. Hutton, Ph.D., guest curator of the Kent Bellows exhibition at Joslyn Art Museum, will present a public lecture on the artist and his work.
Joslyn Members are free.
General public: free with regular Museum admission.

Thursday, January 13, 2011 @ 6:30 pm —Realism. Real Life. Reflections.
A closing celebration! Contributors to the exhibition (collectors, peers, family) will participate in a public, moderated gallery discussion, followed by libations and live music. Guests will have the opportunity to record their own reflections about the artist and enjoy a last look at the show before it closes Sunday, January 16.
Joslyn Members are free.
General public: free with regular Museum admission.
Donations accepted in support of the Kent Bellows Foundation and Joslyn Art Museum.

October through December, Joslyn art classes inspired by the exhibition will be offered, including Life Drawing, a series of two-week classes that includes visits to the exhibition at Joslyn and The Kent Bellows Studio & Center for Visual Arts.

Life Drawing series:
October 7, 14 — Anatomy & Proportion
October 28, November 4 — Value & Mass
November 11, 18 — Fabrics & Texture
December 2, 9 — The Figure in Space

More Courses Inspired by the Exhibition

Figure Painting: Theatric Compositions (Thurs., Oct. 14 through Nov. 18)
Painting Flesh (Sat., Oct. 30 through Nov. 20)
More About Bellows

Born in 1949 in Blair, Nebraska, Bellows began to take on commission work regularly in the 1980s, establishing himself as one of the most sought-after portrait artists in the region. Exceptional likenesses of their subjects, Bellows' commissioned portraits approach the photographic in their aesthetic. In images of his family, Bellows' rare sensitivity to personality and his ability to express the temporality of specific emotional states powerfully assert themselves. In other instances, Bellows followed in the tradition of his father, Vernon (an amateur artist fond of still lifes), recording his physical environment — the domestic space of his home on 33rd Street or his collection of figurines and kitsch memorabilia, which lined the shelves of his basement studio.

All of Bellows' works reveal the mechanics of a consuming artistic personality. Their almost obsessive attention to detail suggests an intense focus on mark-making which offers insight into the nuances of the artist's personality and psychology. The self-portraits (over twenty of which are on view), are particularly revelatory, offering glimpses into what it was like for him to exist in a world where art-making was such a powerful raison d'être. In Self-Portrait (Threading a Needle), for example, Bellows explores metaphorically the pressures and difficulties of negotiating the complex contemporary art market. Other self-portraits suggest the artist's personal struggles and posit art as a means to work through difficult periods in one's life. Indeed, Bellows once commented, "Art is for... people who have come apart at the seams somewhere along the line. Their work is an attempt to put themselves back together again.... That's definitely what my work is about."

Self-portraiture, for Bellows, was also an opportunity to explore the more abstract notion of self and self-fashioning, including the theatrical act of assuming alternative identities and personalities. He possessed the mind of a movie director, had an ingrained interest in film, and appreciated the impact this form of visual culture could have on the viewer. He would build elaborate "sets" that would function as settings for paintings. Within these constructed scenes, characters would pose as part of a pre-established narrative.

Major Sponsor: Omaha Steaks

Contributing Sponsors: Kathy and Ross Bellinghiere, Douglas County, Gilbert M. and Martha H. Hitchcock Foundation, Jane and Hugh Hunt, and Mike & Lin Simmonds Members MD

Supporting Sponsors: Robert Geisler and Eve and Fred Simon

Media Sponsor: The Reader