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WILLIAM BETTS: COLOR SPACE
at Holly Johnson Gallery
by Todd Camplin

Achieving the machine made look has been an obsession with many artists since Warhol and
Lichtenstein burst onto the scene. Lichtenstein used projectors to draw many of his paintings.
He also painted his signature dots to create simplified images that reflect a printing technology
used in comic books and advertising. Warhol used the machine like process of serigraph printing
to push the ink onto canvas or paper. Even today you can look at a poured painting by Peter
Zimmerman or the late work of Scott Barber and you feel that the paintings were made with
machine rather than by hand.
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You might be a little put off by Betts’ process. If you are, you might like to know that if you enjoy
14th century painting, you may be shocked to find out that it too used mechanical means to help
in production. As evidence, Albrecht Dürer depicts the Sighting Easel in his 1525 eching. Illustrations
of camera obscuras and perspective machines litter the history of art. I know revealing how the
sausage is made sometimes takes away a bit of the magic. However, I think it adds to Betts
process, and is what stands out in his work.

Color Space IX,
2017
Reverb, Color Space Series,
2017
Refraction, Color Space Series 2017,
Acrylic on canvas
In the case of William Betts, a machine did the hand work of distributing paint on canvas. Betts
has achieved the goal of removing the hand by removing the hand. But really this is only one step
removed, because after all, digital art still requires hand manipulation. Whether it is in coding or
using graphic software, Betts is still producing art pieces that come from his labor. It is just one step
removed, but is this really that unusual? Printing making has had a long and rich tradition in which
the artist and printer work together to produce an art piece. Many times the artist was removed in
the production part of the process. In recent history we can look to the art of Sol LeWitt. LeWitt’s
paintings and drawings are being reproduced again and again through his instructions. Betts is
also giving his machine instructions to produce his work. I would call LeWitt and Betts style and
process of art a human algorithm. In other words, they use input data to follow a set of rules and
arrives at a creative solution which is produced by something or someone other than themselves.
January, Color Space Series, 2017
Process is nice, but what about content? Once you get past the process, you start to really look at
his paintings. When I first encountered his work, I saw his Morie series. The work consist of thin lines of
paint that made Op like images. These works played in abstraction, but achieved a highly clean
line and color painting. I felt he exceeded the goals of Op and geometric abstraction. But the use
of dots, took the machine to a new level. His CCTV series was dark and sinister. He took shots from
video surveillance and translated them into paint. The dots produced a graininess that reflects the
video quality. Now, in this series titled Color Space you see his return to abstract, but with the dot
application of paint. Unlike his past dot painting, the illusion of graininess has disappeared. Now
the fields of color seem to flow like waves. Betts has limited his palette to the primaries, black, and
white. But the range of color is increased by your eye blending the colors together. Unlike his CCTV
series, these painting feel calmer and help to alleviate my anxiety.  

Where can you see William Betts’ show? The same gallery that shows my work, Holly Johnson
Gallery. Betts’ show will be up through June 10th.