oil, acrylic, etching ink, staples on canvas, 28 x 23 x 6 inches
Bellinger: Transformational Landscapes
So this underage kid from Kalamazoo joins the Navy in the middle of World War II and finds himself aboard the U.S.S. Brooklyn, a battleship that saw action in North Africa and, with the shelling of Anzio, helped liberate Italy from the grip of German control. Although my father’s ancestral roots include a healthy mix of German, Irish, and Welsh interaction, he also boasted about being a Hatfield of the Hatfield/McCoy feud in West Virginia so thought of himself as purely American. Throughout his life, Leonard Bellinger owed no real allegiance to any ethnic background.
On the other hand, my mother, Anna, was a first-generation Italian American, the youngest of 10 children born to Francesco and Caroline Ruggiero and never let a moment pass, whether with immediate family or complete strangers, to let you know she was Italian to the core. Her father hailed from the hillside seaport of Positano, and when four of his sons went off to serve in WWII, he petitioned the Madonna di Positano promising to restore the war-damaged doors of the town’s church if all of his sons came home safe and sound from the European battlefield. All the sons survived. Francesco returned to his birthplace and replaced each of the door plaques that had sustained serious damage. Ever since, it seems to have become a custom of my mother’s close-knit Italian family to make a pilgrimage to visit the Madonna di Positano Church, witness my grandfather’s handiwork, and make petitions of their own to the Madonna.
Me ? Never been. But there’s something about where the land meets the water in that transformational landscape that is just so abrupt, so decisive, yet remains so stubbornly fluid. A constantly evolving space, always changing form but never substance.
The Mass was still being said in Latin when I became an altar boy in 1960, a fifth grade 10-year-old who loved to ring the Sanctus bells when the parish priest lifted his oversized host or gold-plated chalice high above his cloaked torso, the sound of those bells filling every niche of that church interior. That second-generation half-Italian altar boy especially enjoyed adding demitasse sized spoonfuls of incense to this elaborately ornamental thurible and watched spellbound as its fragrant smoke rose high into that same church interior. There, the swirling smoke slowly dissipated and became part of the painted background imagery that included lepers, apostles, sinners, and saints.
It’s that kind of visual solace I want my work to exude. But I’m also interested in those damaged doors my grandfather fixed in Positano—what gets shut out of that interior and the surreal balance between those two sacred spaces, between the abrupt and the fluid, where the land and water meet.
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