Benjamin M. Betsalel was born in Berkeley, CA (1981). Betsalel moved several times during his youth before settling in Asheville, NC in 1990, and received a formal education in art from Savannah College of Art and Design (U.S), University of Chester (U.K.) and is a 2004 Research Scholar graduate of the University of North Carolina-Asheville (U.S).
Betsalel received various awards for his artwork as a student, but two landmark works advanced his early career. While in high school, his portrait “Boy Looking Away” won a national American Visions Award and was shown at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC (1999). This portrait was from a series, which led to a continuing arts education scholarship from the Asheville Area Arts Alliance, a solo exhibition at their gallery space, and a portfolio scholarship from Savannah College of Art and Design.
The second was a 9-panel, 24-foot long mixed media piece and research presentation on German-Jewish poet Nelly Sachs: “Visualizing Humanities: painting in response to the poetry and life of Nelly Sachs“, which was presented at the 2004 National Conference on Undergraduate Research in Indianapolis, Indiana (U.S.) This project focused on personal vs. perceived identity, the death and rebirth of language, and the inherent tensions faced by displaced people and survivors of conflict. While researching this project, Betsalel traveled to Stockholm, Sweden for an appointment to visit the Nelly Sachs Room at the Swedish Royal Library (deep in the basement). And so began the element of travel within his working process.
After University, Betsalel began painting murals and showing his work in Asheville, NC. In late 2006, after two successful solo exhibitions at the Wedge Gallery, Betsalel was invited by the gallery owner/artist/sculptor John Payne to take over the industrial gallery space.
Over the next six years, Betsalel primarily worked and exhibited out of the Wedge Gallery (Betsalel Studio + Wedge Gallery) in Asheville’s historic River Arts District. During this time he became integrated in the artistic community, developing a base of collectors and underwriters, and donating his paintings to support causes such as Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center, Western North Carolina Aids Project, Neighborhood Housing Project, and Open Doors of Asheville. In 2007 Betsalel collaborated with Terpsicorps Theater of Dance, in a piece choreographed by director Heather Maloy, titled “work in progress”. This, in part, led to a new direction of his painting, “the weather or not”, which was first exhibited in 2007 at BoBo Gallery in downtown Asheville, NC.
For three months in early 2008, Betsalel traveled to paint in Dakar, Senegal. There, he set up a studio on the rooftop of the Agora Gallery, utilizing portraiture as a catalyst for opening dialogue, as well as making other non-portrait paintings in response to his new surroundings and environment. While in Senegal he also painted a mural for a locally owned hotel in Mbour and was the subject of an article in La Quotidien, the daily newspaper of Dakar. This was the beginning of his transition towards a full-time life painting abroad.
For the next 5 years Betsalel bounced back and forth between Asheville and abroad, with short stints drawing and painting in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, showing his work in Asheville, Geneva and Paris. Over winter 2011-12, Betsalel had a solo exhibition in Paris at a flagship branch bank of LCL on the Champs-Elysees, titled “under black mountain”. At the end of the summer 2012, Betsalel organized a final exhibition at Betsalel Studio + Wedge Gallery, painting portraits of the buildings new controversial owners, titled “the investors”. That September, he closed the studio/gallery and moved to Ethiopia. Over the next year, Betsalel traveled throughout Tigray (Northern Ethiopia) creating a series of paintings under the working title “transfiguration”, reacting to the region’s landscape and weather and exploring the region’s deep history.
Betsalel is currently living in Colombia, South America, where his studio sits in a small town at the gateway to the Amazon. Throughout 2014 Betsalel met with the family members of missing persons due to the armed conflict, creating a series of portraits from the family members. The series, titled “La Ausencia en la Presencia”, also includes short narratives and objects of remembrance. The thirteen portrait vignettes were exhibited in conjunction with an ICRC presentation on the needs of family members of missing persons due to the armed conflict on November 13th, 2014 in Bogotá.
Betsalel is continuing his portrait work throughout Colombia and creating abstract paintings from his studio in Florencia, Caquetá.
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Voyage, 2010, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 72 in.
© 2014 Benjamin M. Betsalel – All rights reserved.