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Humanity and a brush

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy photo
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CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Just try and picture creating artwork with your spouse.

Joel and Lili Belmont know just what that road looks like.

“Sometimes it’s hard because we’ll have two different visions for the piece,” explained Joel, a photographer.

“And I win, I mostly win,” cut in his wife, Lili, a painter.

She started laughing.

“Yes, you mostly win,” Joel admitted.

The pair were sitting in their living room, flanked with high, white walls. On some hung Joel’s black and white images of nude women, and on others were Lili’s colorful paintings. Between all these were the couple’s “oilgraphs.” Attached to wooden boards, the pieces feature Joel’s monochromatic people in Lili’s vivid, painted world. The contrast is immediate, adding drama to the paintings and a surreal, soft edge to the photos. Though jarring, the mixture feels right.

“Some artists are very set in their ways,” explained Joel. “But, luckily, we blend enough and can combine our ideas.”

“Mostly,” added Lili, smiling at him.

For Joel, these pieces, like his other nudes, show an “element of humanity.” In his opinion, the nakedness isn’t sexual. Instead, it strips away class and status. The lack of color simplifies the figure, and just the fact that it’s a person makes it easier for people to relate. When he was in college, Joel thought he’d be a filmmaker, but there’s something he loves about trying to fit just as much emotion into one picture as he did into 24 frames a second, he explained. In all his work, the “point” isn’t spelled out, but the figures’ positions are so strong and distinct, they certainly take you somewhere.

“There’s a lot of searching, for the spiritual nature of life, I guess,” he said. “It’s my own searching for the spiritual.”

“In addition to how I relate to it, I think the world needs more artwork that’s uplifting,” he went on.

Though she put it differently, it was clear Lili felt the same.

“I guess all of them are little prayers when I do them,” she said, of the pieces. “It’s more like you let the art flow, and you’re not thinking about yourself.”

Like Joel, she’s been an artist for about a decade. A native of Germany, she met him at Principia College, near St. Louis. Around that time, she decided to go for art instead of architecture (“I just fell in love with color,” she said). What followed was six years landscape painting, which has settled into a mixture of every sort of subject matter. While her addition to the “oilgraphs” is mostly abstract, the rest of her work runs the gamut from portraits to landscapes, all done in bright, flashing color. While she always knows what they say to her, when it comes to the public’s response, she wants to listen.

“A lot of people like to ask, ‘what did you mean when you did the piece?'” she said. “I like to ask, ‘what do you see?'”

For her, for him, perhaps the answer that isn’t half important as the question itself. The whole time they spoke, neither offered up any spiritual dogma or resolutions. Like their artwork, their words were setting more of a mood than anything else. To both, it seems, these pieces are a way of exploration, of connection.

“For me, it really feels like I’m doing this thing that blesses people,” said Lili, using words that Joel would echo a moment later.


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