My attitudes (over time) have placed specific emphasis on the ‘object on the wall’ versus the neutral area of the traditional canvas.
With regards to differences in approach to the external form (‘rounds’ and ‘rectilinears’), present throughout my career and together in this exhibition, I see them both being paintings but with either ‘pacific contours’ or ‘active contours’. In another sense you could say ‘with or without corners‘. The former being more open to implications of depth and implied external space which can freely develop an image, whereas the latter draws attention to it’s own fact and object nature and so is a holistic image in it’s own right. After so many periods of developing both types of work independently, I have found that recently working, once again on a pacific canvas to be a reclaimed freedom, but as a parallel to the slower more considered rounds, but either must generate a revealed presence and the feeling and realisation for that is the reason for working.
Trevor Bell, 2012
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INTRODUCTION by Roy Slade
To write on the paintings of Trevor Bell is both a joy and challenge. For decades, Trevor Bell has delighted and enriched us with his passion for painting, mastery of gesture and sublime colour. The recent paintings, so evocative of the changing moods of nature and light, are a breath of fresh air and breathtaking. Trevor’s exuberance, energy and enthusiasm for life and painting are evident, as are his ongoing innovation and individuality. My brief words are a personal response to these recent works.
I recently viewed his painting ‘Light Trap’, presently on view at the Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota, Florida in a gallery devoted to ‘Luminosity’. In his exhibition literature, curator Matthew McLendon writes on “the color of light” and paintings that “explore the interactions of large planes of colour”. He says “artists sought to exploit the tensions, the ebb and flow of sensations as washes of color that were juxtaposed with one another”. The exhibition ‘Luminosity’, works from the collection, and the recent installation of James Turrell’s skyspace ‘Joseph’s Coat’ celebrate light and color, as does ‘Light Trap’. The 1981 painting is a seminal Florida work, influenced and inspired by light and luminosity.
At the Millennium, the recent paintings are a visual orchestration of shape, surface, form, gesture, texture, colour and mood. From pearly white to bible black, with blues and oranges, color is used in rich resonance and evocative elegance. Paintings range from dark and sombre to light and joyous. Black and mysterious, ‘Tsu’ comes from seeing Japanese pots in the Asia Society, New York. Yet the work is not illustrative of, but inspired by that experience and has a unique, ominous presence. Another painting ‘Night Voyage ’is rich and resonant with dark blue, black gesture and white form. The mystery of mood and purity of painting is evident in these works, each different and distinctive. ‘Blue Dancer’, ‘Breaker’, ‘Depths’, ‘Gust’, ‘Marine’ and ‘Squall’ may be titles evocative of nature, yet the paintings are pure abstraction. For the past hundred years, painting no longer illustrates or copies nature but is liberated to deal with visual choreography, evident throughout this work. Trevor has travelled extensively and writes of his experiences from journeys in the Himalayas to the Florida launching of an Apollo spacecraft. All have influenced him, most of all his living in Cornwall where sky, sea, surf, storms, rock, cliff and elements offer ever changing contrast, discord and harmony. Trevor Bell is responsive to his surroundings yet his art remains universal and timeless. What more can be said about these works that celebrate painting and speak to us so eloquently.
Much has been written on the painting of Trevor Bell with many catalogues and countless essays published over the years. Insights are gained through the writings of many distinguished critics and artists. ‘Trevor Bell: a British painter in America’ is a catalogue of the 2003 exhibition organised by Florida State University with many essays. My own writings conclude “Trevor Bell has proved himself a significant and heroic painter who believes in the joy of painting. He has become a virtuoso of colour and an orchestrator of light. Thrust and gesture open up new and total realisations of space and sensation. His painting is to be enjoyed and acclaimed”. This 2012 exhibition is an opportunity to look anew with appreciation and awe at the work of this master painter at his zenith. Enjoy!
Roy Slade, Florida, 2012
Director Emeritus of Cranbrook Art Museum and former Director of the Corcoran Gallery of Art
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.