Jordan Belson

Born in Chicago, 1926

Jordan Belson was an American artist and filmmaker who created nonobjective, often spiritually oriented, abstract films spanning six decades.
Belson studied painting at the University of California, Berkeley. He saw the “Art in Cinema” screenings at the San Francisco Museum of Art beginning in 1946. The films screened at this series inspired Harry Smith, Belson and others to produce abstract films. Belson especially noted the influence of films by Fischinger, Richter and McLaren on his work (Keefer, 2008). Belson’s first abstract film was Transmutation (1947), now lost. A few of his films were screened in later screenings of the “Art in Cinema” series. Following these early films, Belson made a few films with his scroll paintings.
He was the recipient of a grant from the Museum of Non-Objective Painting, which later became the Guggenheim (Oskar Fischinger recommended him to the MoNOP curator Hilla von Rebay). Much of Belson’s work is meant to evoke a mystical or meditative experience.
In 1957 he began a collaboration with sound artist Henry Jacobs at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco, California that lasted until 1959. Together they produced a series of electronic music concerts accompanied by visual projections at the Planetarium, the Vortex Concerts. Belson as visual director programmed kinetic live visuals, and Jacobs programmed electronic music and audio experiments. This is a direct ancestor of the 60s light shows and the “Laserium”-style shows that were popular at planetaria later in the century. The Vortex shows involved projected imagery, specially prepared film excerpts and other optical projections. Not just an opportunity to develop new visual technologies and techniques, the sound system in the planetarium enabled Belson and Jacobs to create an immersive environment where imagery could move throughout the entire screen space, and sound could move around the perimeter of the room.
Belson also created special effects for The Right Stuff (1983). His latest film “Epilogue” was commissioned for the Visual Music exhibition at the Hirshhorn/Smithsonian, and completed in 2005. It was produced by Center for Visual Music with support from the NASA Art Program. The New York Times described it as having “lush and misty optics”.
Belson’s films are represented by Center for Visual Music (CVM) in Los Angeles, where preservation and digitization is ongoing. A special Jordan Belson Retrospective has been presented by CVM at Tate Modern (London), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum (New York), Los Angeles County Museum of Art, EYE Film Institute (Amsterdam), Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (Karlsruhe, Germany), Rotterdam Film Festival, European Media Art Festiva] (Osnabruck, Germany), Queensland Gallery of Modern Art (Brisbane, Australia), Harvard Film Archive, Northwest Film Center, MOCA (Los Angeles), TIFF (Toronto), and other venues.
Belson died of heart failure at his home in San Francisco on September 6, 2011. He was 85. CVM and Pacific Film Archive presented a special Memorial screening at PFA, Berkeley, California on October 19, 2011, a version of the CVM Retrospective program. CVM is currently booking this Memorial Retrospective.

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