Judy Belcher’s Calculations
Well versed in the realm of numbers, Judy Belcher applies mathematical thinking to her practice of art. Belcher is the author of 2 books on polymer art* and a master educator about polymer in terms of studio practice and public outreach. These accomplishments all draw upon her extensive organizational, communication and business skills. She has been a strong advocate for polymer and other crafts at both the state (West Virginia) and the national level. Belcher moves fluidly between polymer enthusiasts and the larger network of craft organizations. The value of Belcher’s business experience and her capacity to get things done cannot be underestimated.
Belcher’s hands-on practice of her own polymer art has little to do with number crunching or numerical imagery. However, much of her work relates directly or indirectly to mathematics.
Belcher’s work is often comprised of combinations of black and white with accents of bold color. Geometry was and remains crucial to her sense of design. Like numbers in a basic equation, Belcher arranges different black and white ratios into a series of pleasing solutions. Using caning techniques to build strong patterning, Belcher’s jewelry demonstrates precision form accentuated with dashes of color, which adds up to a distinctive look.
Perhaps abetted by her mathematical acumen, Belcher quickly became an accomplished creator of complex canes. Sometimes her canes are reminiscent of tesselated quilt blocks that can be combined in many ways, but she took an unusual approach for a series of face canes. Working in subtle gradations of value, Belcher translated the angles and surface planes of a 3D face into a 2D illusion using only black and white. While some faces remain intact and regular, others are distorted and have the optical effect of a fun house mirror.
Mathematics again supports her textile inspired work. Belcher has created lots of work based on the infinite options of quilt patterns. While preparing her first book, Belcher began to explore the use of flexible sheets of polymer. Taking a more functional approach, rather than the purely sculptural state of Steven Ford ’s Beach Balls (1997), Belcher stitched geometric shaped pieces of pliable polymer into a variety of handbags- much like actual quilting techniques. More recently, she has taken to replicating the look of knitting. Belcher looked to the strong color and the geometric patterning of Missoni knitwear for inspiration. A dynamic zigzag stripe appears throughout much of Belcher’s faux knit surfaces. Using various “knit” textures, Belcher combines an array of related components into bold necklaces. Geometry rules over many elements of their construction but they are successful because she is able to organize this complexity into a unified whole.
And lastly, there is her interest in kinetic art. Once again, relying on the inherent stability and grace of the regular geometric shape, Belcher varies the form and scale and creates a window or a series of windows within the larger whole. A smaller piece is positioned at some level within the window in such a way that it can spin or move independently. The accuracy and calculations necessary to accomplish this effect involve a meticulous hand as well as an understanding of proportional spatial relationships. Sometimes these kinetic pieces become focus pendants but other times they are incorporated as surprise details within a larger composition.
Belcher’s art is not about numbers. However, when looking at the collective body of her work, it is evident that the patterning, sequencing and inherent beauty of a balanced equation, be it symmetric or asymmetric, is something Belcher deeply appreciates. Her understanding of these principals informs all that she does.
*Judy Belcher, Polymer Clay Creative Traditions: Techniques and Projects inspired by the Fine and Decorative Arts, New York, 2006 and Judy Belcher and Tamara Honaman, Polymer Clay Master Class: Exploring Process, Technique and Collaboration with 11 Master Artists, New York, 2012