At the risk of overselling an idea, one of the most contemplative spots in Santa Barbara’s present fine-art landscape can be found by proceeding to the darkened main gallery of the Westmont College Ridley-Tree Museum of Art. You can’t miss it. A potential slow-brew epiphany awaits in the form of Adam Belt’s “A Volume of Light Shining in the Darkness,” an installation piece clearly resembling the arched window referring to cathedral architecture.
Light emanates from the most distant point, a source of sublime mystery. This is light as an end and as a perceptual process unto itself, an illusory proposal made famous by one of Belt’s heroes, James Turrell, from the SoCal-born Light and Space movement. As with Turrell’s art, the “being there” is critical to full appreciation.
If “Volume” is the magnetizing centerpiece of the San Diego–based artist’s current exhibition, Wish You Were Here, the varied selection of his work on view, embraces both diversity of media and method and a surprising unity of purpose. This is a rare artist, and a rare show, in which fundamental interests in spirituality, science, nature, and contemporary art notions come together in symbiotically expressive accord.
Ideas may flex and rumble in his art, but Belt is an exacting art-maker, as seen in the precisely cut pages of a book in “A Gentle Whisper,” its concave shape replicating Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory. Contrarily, the enclosed chamber of “A Mute Encounter,” in a corner of the main gallery, goes foggy with a cause. A fog machine emulates Santa Barbara’s (and San Diego’s) marine layer in a microcosmic commentary on the awe of natural forces.
The title piece, “Wish You Were Here,” utilizes an LED spotlight, a clock motor, and a rotating disc to suggest a slowly morphing eclipse-like phenomenon on the wall, alluding to the universe, time’s passage, and our Earth-centric assumption of “here-ness.”
More direct church-related references appear in “Pride, the Lamb of God, and the Refraction of Light,” the rainbow colors of which symbolize the ideal inclusiveness worship, while the baptismal font reference in “Font (Circle)” swaps holy water for a crystalized solution and a nod to the altering imprint of time (linear and cosmic).
For Belt, conceptualism and Christian mysticism meet and find common grounds for relating, with an abiding fascination with earth sciences and space in the wings.
Adam Belt: Wish You Were Here is on view at the Westmont Ridley-Tree Museum of Art through November 5. For more information, visit westmont.edu/museum.