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In a painting titled “Dragon,” Valeriy Belenikin unleashes a scene of daemonic fury bursting across the sky in the form of that fearsome beast of ancient legend. Rendered exquisitely in a manner distinctly reminiscent of the famed fantasy artist, Frank Frazetta, the creature overshadows a pair of buildings in the background which spew dark clouds of smoke. The obvious metaphor of the World Trade Center attacks echoes a brilliant song by John Flynn with the same title and theme as Belenikin’s painting (from Flynn’s album on the Metta/four label also titled Dragon) and carries a deep significance for the artist.

A graduate of the Moscow Academic Institute of Art in Russia, Belenikin’s graduate work, a magnificent series of stained glass panels, was on permanent exhibition at New York’s World Trade Center when the twin complex collapsed in a bizarre storm of street-sweeping dust on that traumatic day.

A glance through the artist’s astonishing catalogue, as sampled within these pages or at his website, quickly dispels any notion of Belenikin as one of a number of imitators inspired by Frazetta’s style. Although an avid and erupting imagination distinguishes most of Belenikin’s work, his dazzling mastery of myriad styles and manners of brushwork prompts a rare window of comparison to modern and classical masters from Hieronymus Bosch to Norman Rockwell.

A conversation with the artist suggests that it is more an aspect of challenge than received inspiration which motivates his excursions through differing perspectives and schools of art.

“There are two categories of artists,” said Valeriy (pronounced va-larry) in robust tones of Russian before defining one sort of artist as those who drink their tea leaves in the kitchen, intent on just taking care of themselves and not concerning their aesthetic senses with the varied turmoils of life.

Another species of artist, according to Belenikin, understand that art, like life, is a struggle and, in their experience of the heights and depths of living, strive always to comprehend the deeper layers of the human circumstance.

Some artists are content to find an approach to art with which they settle into a comfortable and familiar relationship, untroubled by realms of art outside of their personal niche. They tend to paint the same thing in the same way, again and again, Belenikin observes, changing detail, color or some other element a bit and just continuing in that way.

The true artist, in Valeriy’s view, should understand and be prepared to exercise any variant of artistic theme and method.

“If you’re a real artist,” he declares, “you have to be able to do everything,” and makes an analogy of different illustrations for different books which evades clear translation.

There are no difficulties with language, however, when one examines his images. His inspirations are direct from life and from the people he encounters but much of the substance which manifests upon his canvases, he confesses, originates from a source mysterious to him. But, what a wondrous source! His paintings can be seen as intensely intelligent, artistically and instinctively probing and, within each discipline of expression he exercises, superbly crafted. His themes, likewise, strike chords which manifest as endlessly fascinating, perceptive, relentlessly questing and gracefully unapologetic for realities of the human constitution unearthed by his skills.

Even more miraculously, Belenikin gives his audience a ring of intuitive keys to unlock the thoughts and character of his human subjects with gleeful facility. A bubbling and mischievous humor seeps from each shadow cast by his subjects, toned and formatted into a knowing compassion for man’s failing aspirations to dignity.

Currently dividing his time between his pair of galleries in Lambertville, New Jersey and New Hope, Pennsylvania, Belenikin has lectured on Russian art of the 20th Century at Melbourne University and exhibited in Australia, Europe and the United States.
2007 Book Art Press