plus: Rina Banerjee & Pi(e)
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Issue no. 32
New to the Gallery: Judith Belzer
Hosfelt Gallery is delighted to add Judith Belzer to our roster of artists. Belzer’s methodology ranges across performance, installation and painting. But no matter the medium or the specific subject matter, at its heart, all of her work reflects upon our complicated relationship to nature.
Judith Belzer, All That Is Solid #16, 2020, oil on canvas, 96 x 78 inches, installation view
Originating in the daily act of walking outdoors, Belzer’s artistic practice fits as neatly within the lineage of the performative British walking artists Hamish Fulton and Richard Long, or the early found object installations of Tony Cragg, as it does landscape painting. Her walking practice is a meditation “to quiet the overactive, talky part of my head,” a means of situating her body within a place in order to gain perspective (on her environment and herself), and an opportunity to collect objects, which she later arranges into installations.
Judith Belzer, From the Anthropocene #5, 2015, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches
Judith Belzer, HalfEmptyHalfFull #16, 2018, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches
studio view: an arrangement of found objects and paintings
Belzer’s aesthetic concerns emanate from a fascination with form. Broken, twisted, corroded or spent, the objects she picks up on her walks are both organic and man-made. Peculiar things, once with a purpose, are now unidentifiable or useless. She brings both the physical things and the circumstances of their discovery back to the studio. There, she arranges the bits and pieces on tables and in cabinets. This very human endeavor — the attempt to make sense of the world by creating order through sorting, grouping and systematizing — becomes a kind of sketchbook, a "thinking with her hands."
studio view: an arrangements of found objects
Organizing by shape, texture and color, she arranges for rhythm and looks for rhymes. She learns how a dried vine doubles for a rubber band, a spent wisteria pod could pass for a rusted spring, or that a tangle of fishing line is the twin of Spanish moss. She has come to understand that the man-made and biological are not so easily distinguished or defined.

And the patterns and textures — common between the machined and organic — inspire the geometries, shapes and mark-making techniques that influence her painting vocabulary.
Judith Belzer, Untitled, 2013, watercolor on paper, 22 x 30 inches
With that eclectic, painterly language, she interprets the forms of massive dams, the locks of the Panama Canal, or the intersection of the San Francisco Bay with the industrial complexes on its shores. Energetic, sometimes even agitated, the paintings viscerally evoke the encounter with places impacted by the actions of humans, mapping the manufactured landscapes we’ve imposed upon natural ones. Her aim is to conjure for the viewer her own emotional experience of the terrain.
Judith Belzer, From the Anthropocene #1, 2014, oil on canvas, 64 x 64 inches
Her most recent paintings are of boulders. Top-heavy and improbably balanced, the precariousness of their equilibrium threatens imminent collapse. Metaphors, perhaps, for the imperiled condition of our planet as well as current political and social upheaval, they're an apt reflection of the early 21st century zeitgeist. Who among us doesn’t feel the ground shifting beneath our feet? How do we manage to not fall apart?
Judith Belzer, All That Is Solid #1, 2019, oil on canvas, 60 x 60 inches
But as unsettling as instability can be, these paintings are beautiful. The boulders they depict are not the jagged product of violent cataclysm; they’ve been rolled smooth by the slow advance of glaciers or burnished by the tumble of constantly moving water. They’re part of something bigger and older than us. They lean into each other, interlocked, holding each other up. There’s comfort in them. A stillness. An acceptance that change is part of the natural order. That balance, by definition, is precarious.
studio view: paintings in progress, 6 July 2021
As humans, we tend to view ourselves as outside the natural world. Beyond it. Above it. We have a schizophrenic view of nature as something either pure and sacred or a force to battle, conquer and control. Both perspectives are simplistic and have led us into dangerously unsustainable practices. Belzer posits that we are not separate from nature, but part of it. The objects she collects and the paintings she makes zero in on the micro and macro sites of that convergence. Walking — leaving the insular environment of the artist’s studio and going out into the world — is both the way she experiences those connections, and a metaphor for transcending herself and engaging with the world.

Judith Belzer, who was born and grew up in a suburb of Chicago, now divides her time between Berkeley, California and a small farm in rural Connecticut. She received a degree in English from Barnard College and studied at the New York Studio School. She is a visiting lecturer in the Department of Visual Art and Environmental Studies at Harvard University.
In Case You Missed It
Rina Banerjee, In transplant of people battle of all things grew funny and fickle until new things could be gotten and old things forgotten, 2013 (detail), ink and acrylic and collage on paper, 30 x 44 inches
Rachel Kent, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney, Australia, interviews Rina Banerjee.

Watch the interview here.
An Artwork Explained
Alan Rath, Huge Pi 808, 1996, aluminum, acrylic, custom electronics, LEDs, 72 x 48 x 3 inches
Pi (π), the symbol used to describe the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, has fascinated and puzzled mathematicians for nearly four thousand years. In this work, Alan Rath, ever the math nerd, celebrates that obsession by building and programming a sculpture that counts π to 808 digits, which refers to a milestone in the calculation of π: the first time a mechanical calculator was used for the computation, in 1947.

The first known reference to π comes from an Egyptian scribe 3,650 years ago. Ancient Greeks offered values for π starting about 2,500 years ago. China’s Ch’ang Hong implied a π ratio of 3.162 about 1,800 years ago. 1,500 years ago, in India, Aryabhata approximated π at 3.1416. At about the same time, the Chinese astronomer Tsu Ch’ungchih and his son, Tsu Keng-chih deduced that π is approximately 3.1415929 – within 8-millionths of 1 percent difference from the now-accepted value.

In 1579 French lawyer and mathematician Francois Viète described π using an infinite product for the first time, one of the first steps in the evolution of mathematics toward trigonometry and calculus.

German mathematician Ludolf van Ceulen spent most of his adult life on the problem, and by 1610 had calculated 35 decimals. His π value was engraved on his tombstone. By 1699, Englishman Abraham Sharp found 72 decimals of π.
In 1844, Zacharias Dase and Strassnitzky calculated 205 digits of π, but only 200 digits were correct.

By 1873, Englishman William Shanks calculated π to 707 digits. While it was hailed as the "unveiling of a great mathematical truth,” according to Joy of Pi by David Blatner, Shanks had made a mistake after the 527th place. All subsequent numbers were wrong, but the error wasn't discovered for 72 years.

In 1948, Levi Smith and John Wrench found the 1,000th digit of π. In the same year,
one of the earliest computers, ENIAC (which used 19,000 vacuum tubes and hundreds of thousands of transistors and capacitors), was used to compute π to 2,037 digits. In 1958, an IBM 704 computer calculated the first 707 digits of π in 40 seconds. It had taken a year on the ENIAC computer and had taken William Shanks' adult lifetime to do it by hand. In 1973, Jean Guilloud and M. Bouyer found the one millionth digit of π (which happens to be 1). In 1982, π was calculated past the eight millionth digit and in 1995, David and Gregory Chudnovsky computed π to the one billionth digit.

But why pi?
The beauty of pi, in part, is that it puts infinity within reach. Even young children get this. The digits of pi never end and never show a pattern. They go on forever, seemingly at random—except that they can’t possibly be random, because they embody the order inherent in a perfect circle. This tension between order and randomness is one of the most tantalizing aspects of pi.

What distinguishes pi from all other numbers is its connection to cycles. For those of us interested in the applications of mathematics to the real world, this makes pi indispensable. Whenever we think about rhythms—processes that repeat periodically, with a fixed tempo, like a pulsing heart or a planet orbiting the sun—we inevitably encounter pi.

...[P]i appears in the math that describes the gentle breathing of a baby and the circadian rhythms of sleep and wakefulness that govern our bodies. When structural engineers need to design buildings to withstand earthquakes, pi always shows up in their calculations. Pi is inescapable because cycles are the temporal cousins of circles; they are to time as circles are to space. Pi is at the heart of both.

For this reason, pi is intimately associated with waves, from the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tides to the electromagnetic waves that let us communicate wirelessly. At a deeper level, pi appears in both the statement of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle and the Schrödinger wave equation, which capture the fundamental behavior of atoms and subatomic particles. In short, pi is woven into our descriptions of the innermost workings of the universe.

– Steven Strogatz, “Why Pi Matters,” The New Yorker, March 13, 2015
Huge Pi 808 is on view in our current Alan Rath exhibition through this Saturday, July 24.

The gallery will be closed from July 25 through September 6 for re-roofing and installation. We reopen Tuesday September 7 with William T. Wiley: Monumental, an exhibition of large-scale paintings by the incomparable artist who passed away in April.
& Speaking of Pie...
I learned to bake pie from my grandmother. Hers were double-crusted with flawlessly crimped edges and a deft graphic of the fruit incised into the top crust. I’m lazier and less artful: what I make is actually a galette. I rely on ripe fruit and use less sugar than she did, but my pastry is as melt-in-your-mouth flaky as hers was. Bet you can’t eat just one piece.

6 ripe nectarines, cut into chunks
1 pint blueberries
1/3 cup sugar (+ a bit to sprinkle on top)
1 cup flour
6 tablespoons cold butter or vegetable shortening
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup ice water
3 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, mix the nectarine chunks, blueberries and sugar, crushing the sugar into the fruit (I do it with my hands, but you could use a potato masher). The consistency should still be quite lumpy. Set aside. Butter and dust with flour a 9-inch pie plate. Set that aside.

In a medium bowl, mix flour and salt, then break the butter or shortening into it with a few smashes of a fork. Next, with your hands, quickly and gently massage the flour into the butter. This is about a 5-second step — you want to touch the mixture as little as possible. Dribble one quarter of the icy water over the flour and shortening and stir it in with the fork. Continue trickling the water in, stopping to stir it in as you go. Quit when the pastry dough is just slightly sticky.

Form a ball and roll it around a generously floured work surface. Squash it into a disk with your palm, turn it over and dust it with flour again. Flatten with a flour dusted rolling pin, always rolling outward from the center, trying to maintain something approximating round. Flip and flour the pastry after every-fourth roll. It sounds like I’m manhandling it, but I’m not; touch it as little as possible. When you have the pastry as thin as you can get it without tearing it, gently fold it in half, then in quarters in order to lift it from the surface and place it, folded point in the center of the dish. When you unfold it, it drapes softly over the edge.

The fruit mixture should be quite juicy by now. Stir in a tablespoon of the flour left over from your work surface. This, and the pectin in the blueberries, will thicken the fruit with baking. Pour the mixture into the shell and fold the excess pastry over the fruit, brushing with melted butter as you go. Be sure to get the places where flaps overlap. Sprinkle the buttered pastry with sugar and bake for 25-35 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so. When the pastry is toasty and the fruit is bubbling, remove and cool on a rack.

Though it’s tempting to eat it while it’s still warm — and I’m not going to tell you not to — it needs to cool completely for the filling to set up. Enjoy!
Hosfelt Gallery is located at 260 Utah St, between 15th & 16th streets. Wheelchair accessible entrance at 255A Potrero Avenue. For more information call 415.495.5454 or visit

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San Francisco CA 94103