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TREVOR BELL
'HASTE SLOWLY'

2009

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EXHIBITION FOREWORD
 

It is a great privilege to be showcasing Trevor Bell’s latest works. HASTE SLOWLY is a striking and unusual exhibition for Bell, indicating a new level of freedom in his paintings. 

Although a spontaneous dialogue between works has been created, each work stands alone. Communication between works becomes challenging, sometimes a whisper, sometimes a scream, like a group of people brought together, tentatively forming common ground. Ultimately, however, there is a sense of isolation. Each work is its own individual experience. 

Bell is a romantic. An unusual admission when people so often talk of the formality of abstract painting, but I am struck by the emotive element so strong in his work; it is nature, both raw and in its spirit; it is the duality of life, in its calm and in its conflict. It is exciting. It reminds us we are alive and is suggestive of that which is out of reach and as such is humbling. The works suggest a journey that we all face and through experiencing these paintings we celebrate that journey. Each creates its own sublime vista. 

2009 has been a busy year so far for Bell, having just seen the launch of a major retrospective book written by Chris Stevens of Tate Britain and Elizabeth Knowles esteemed former Director of Newlyn Art Gallery. A major public solo exhibition at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Art Gallery, Leeds, and inclusion in the ‘Gregory Fellows’ Exhibition taking place at Leeds City Art Gallery (his home town), as well as an retrospective exhibition in London. All culminating recognition of Bell’s status as a truly major figure in British Art. What is so striking in this exhibition is the sense of a lifetimes work come together. Of all strands joining and becoming truly greater than the sum of their parts. 

Compiled with the energetic ‘haste’ of a man in defiance of his years to create something monumental in its permanence. As Bell once said; ‘I make works which do not always give themselves immediately. Something for the spirit, not of words, and an antidote to the vigourous complexities that surround us. It has required a gradual ungaining of learning to achieve a full emptiness’. 


Joseph Clarke. 2009 

 
 

ONLINE CATALOGUE (click below) :

 
 

ARTIST STATEMENT
 

The ‘AS WHITES ‘group shown in my last exhibition at the Millennium, and recently exhibited at the Leeds University Gallery as ‘NOTHING EXTRA‘ proved to be a very difficult act to follow. Because the works are so closely related they inevitably make a very unified space and statement when seen together even though each canvas was made as a solo work, and of course I would have liked to come up with an equivalent to that position if at all possible. 

Great ideas are one thing, and what happens is another, and although I gave myself a totally new proposition i.e. to fully use the edges as a way of projecting the picture surface and to carry edge colour as a truly operative factor, the newness of that carrying form has demanded an open ended curiosity and excitement as to what was appropriate within my own terms. 

This then is a group of works each of which is its own exploration, linked by differing uses of the edge, and having different degrees of input from the inescapable fact of living in such a powerful area together with the influence of my own working history. 

I hope they are all responsible to painting as painting above all. 


Trevor Bell. 2009 



"Your paintings are unique as the canvas is shaped, even the edge; as you say the “deep edge” has colour. Moreover, I am sure you realise and have been told that the work is heraldic. 

To me, the paintings are much more: heroic with colour, shape, gesture and form; an art without epoch, timeless. 

I can not believe that after the Leeds and London exhibitions and major publication that you have a major exhibition at the Millennium St Ives. We wish you well and admire your tenacity and endless energy." 


Excerpt from a letter to Trevor Bell from Roy Slade, former President of Cranbrook Academy and Director of The Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C in response to seeing the work in this exhibition. Roy Slade is an Artist, Curator and Writer. 
  

 
 

BIOGRAPHY
 

Trevor Bell was a British artist, born in Leeds, England in 1930. He passed away in 2017 at his home in west Cornwall. 

Bell's creative interest focussed primarily, on painting’s power to evoke sensation, which for him superseded any illusionistic properties that it might have. Ambitious in scale and dynamic in form, the range of work is diverse, Bell’s over is a celebration of mutable energy, elemental forces and a quest for contemplative stillness. He achieved significant critical acclaim and recognition for his direct, abstract forms which emphatically represent the conflicting or harmonious physicality found in the natural world to the spiritual concerns which connect all that surrounds us from the micro to the macro.

Bell was as an important figure within the St Ives post war modernist movement, which achieved international acclaim. He also spent a significant part of his career in the USA, where he became head of art at Tallahassee State University, a role that he approached with zeal alongside the continued production of his expansive paintings and public artworks for which he became known. In 2007 Tate St Ives presented a ‘Beyond Materiality' a solo exhibition of contemporary work shown alongside key works drawn from five decades of painting. Chris Stephens (then head of displays at Tate Britain) said "Bell’s art is, in the loosest sense, spiritual. It evokes, or reflects, an idea of some abstract force that exceeds material reality... The dangers and losses of the modern world would be compensated through the rediscovery of natural order and process, and a renewed sense of individual identity would be established through the exploration of forces larger than ourselves. Bell’s work, one might say, has always derived in one way or another from this new sublime."

In 1955 he was encouraged by a friend and peer, Terry Frost, to travel to St Ives where he would find a place that he could focus on his painting amongst the town’s expanding artistic community. There he joined Ben Nicholson, Peter Lanyon, Barbara Hepworth and Patrick Heron amongst others. Bell’s career was quick to climb. Patrick Heron described Bell as “The best non-figurative painter under 30”. The following year Bell was awarded the honour of the prize for painting at the Paris Biennale. During this year Bell visited the ‘Museum of the Man’ which was to have a profound affect on him. Bells says of this encounter “To see the power of the masks and the actual presence of things, it made me realise that I wanted the work to have an equivalent that would be ‘it’ rather than the ‘illusion of it’, to be the ‘God’ rather than an 'illusion of a God’”. Bell also described an early meeting with Zen monk and teacher Snhunryu Suzuki at the house of Bernard Leach as particularly pivotal. Bell credits Suzuki with describing what he was “feeling" he had to do in painting, these lessons remained with him all his life. Bell stayed in St. Ives for five years constantly developing his technique and painting language, but in 1960 left St Ives and returned to Leeds College of Art as a Gregory Fellow (the youngest to date). It was here the he began to develop his shaped works which began to set him apart from other abstract artists of his generation. John Elderfield (head curator of MOMA New York) said "Bell was making paintings whose interior shapes referred to landscape - but to the forces as much as to the forms of landscape; and it was this concern for what is best described as dynamics which led him naturally into an investigation of the mechanisms of painting itself.” During the 1960s Bell showed work in major exhibitions in the UK and USA and during this time his work was first bought for the Tate collection. Bells idiosyncratic work continued to develop. In 1970, Patrick Heron stated; “One of the most important painters working anywhere today is Trevor Bell... As far as I am concerned [Bell’s paintings] are far and away the most original and successful shaped canvas paintings - which remain paintings - to have been produced anywhere. But the task of justifying this judgment and of explaining, even to myself, the reasons for their very great power and beauty is daunting in the extreme, because so much about their construction, their literal appearance and colour, is unique and therefore outside existing terms of formal comparison and analysis.” In 1972, while on a visit to Florida State University, Bell witnessed at first hand the night-time launch of the Apollo 17 space mission at Cape Canaveral. It was a spectacle that captured and inspired Bell, and became a captivating source for a number of works which followed. These works were included in his solo exhibition at London's Whitechapel Gallery in 1973, having just taken part in a major exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC. Bell located to the USA in 1975 and in 1976 after being appointed by Florida State University to become Professor for Master painting. Bell viewed his time in Tallahassee fondly, here with the provision of a warehouse sized studio and time to really develop his painting he continued to produce ambitious works. Alongside gallery exhibitions, he worked on public art commissions including 'Florida Queen' for the passenger terminal at Orlando airport made in 1981. Bell was included in the 1983 Tate Gallery ‘St Ives 1939-64’ exhibition and in the inaugural Tate St Ives exhibition when it opened in 1993. When he retired from Florida State University in 1996 he returned to Cornwall which had remained a spiritual home. He converted a farmhouse in to large scale studio’s to continue to make work with notable ambition. Bell was made an honoury academician of the Royal West of England Academy, an Honoury Fellow of Falmouth University and Professor Emeritus as Florida State in recognition of his achievements. Support in the US continued with Florida State University ensuring that Bell’s key American works remained prominent. A monograph published by Sanson & Company in 2009 written by Elizabeth Knowles and Chris Stephens communicated the huge breadth of Bell’s work on both sides of the Atlantic. 14 works were acquired by The Tate in 2014 and an acquisition was made in 2015 by the Perez Art Museum in Florida the most recent major acquisitions in a roster that includes a multitude of important public collections here and abroad. His final body of work ‘Beyond the Edge’ made at the age of 85 was a tour de force of purity, balance and the sublime - which encapsulated his philosophical aims for ‘nothing extra’ to intrude in the work. Bell would sum up his ability to  encapsulate and distil natures physical and metaphysical complexity with a graceful rawness and often profound simplicity with typical humility by stating that "He was just in the middle”. Most recently Bell collaborated with choreographer Rodger Belman in the states in an exhibition incorporating painting and dance and in the final months of his life he was focussing on a future public solo exhibition 'Trans-Form’, a celebration of key recent and older works, their energies transformed into sound and contemporary dance. Trevor Bell’s paintings are represented by Anima-Mundi.

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