Trevor Bell: A British Painter In America

Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

 

TREVOR BELL: A BRITISH PAINTER IN AMERICA was organized in 2003 by the Museum of Fine Arts in celebration of major works by the artist that had recently entered the collection of Florida State University, among them Temple Gate, Rising Heat and Light Pillar.

Red, 1968-70, acrylic on canvas, 118 x 136 inches.


Bell’s paintings in his 2003 exhibition in Florida represented decades of dynamic work beginning with shaped canvases in the 1960s.

John Elderfield (Studio International, June 1970) wrote: “From 1960-63, 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."

Copper, 1969. Private Collection.

Elderfield continues: "From 1964 to 1966, [was] a period of extremely flexible reassessment…the object preoccupation began in earnest, translating the original interest in forces in movement from a depiction within the object to the shape of the support itself. . . .A certain point was reached (around 1967-8) when the literal object-character was so assertive that a development into sculpture seemed possible.

And yet, while accepting a free interpretation of ‘painting,’ Bell’s preoccupation with shape has always been a painter’s. . . he has been taking risks; but his most successful paintings achieve an impressive equilibrium of pictorial impact and spatial control.”

Tall Seven, 1975-76, acrylic on canvas, 132 x 208 inches. [Photo credit: Jon Nalon, Tallahassee, Florida]

Patrick Heron (Studio International, December 1970) wrote in “Two Cultures” that a retrospective that year proved to Herron “that after six years in the wilderness, Trevor Bell has achieved a major breakthrough in the field of the shaped canvas. . . . Bell’s hand-painted surfaces hold the interest of the spectator in their own right as painted surfaces; and that this is another reason why one’s eye is detained indefinitely within the shaped canvas itself in Bell’s case. This is the role of sheer quality; it detains the eye and induces that lingering of the gaze, that visual meditation which all fine painting compels.”

Light Trap, 1981, acrylic on canvas, 114 x 171 inches. [Photo credit: Jon Nalon, Tallahassee, Florida]

“In retrospect, I am always amazed how one period grows from another, or overlaps it, and often two currents run side-by-side before they fuse, like those rivers in the the Amazon.” –Trevor Bell, 1987

Breakaway, 1981 by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, Collection of Debbie and Bobby Bacon

Light Pillar and Rising Heat, both 1982, acrylic on canvas, each 186 x 86 inches. Collection: Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts. Gift of the American Express Corporation. [Photo credit: Larry Coltharp, Tallahassee, Florida]

Bell's paintings Rising Heat and Light Pillar, having been a response to the night launches from Cape Canaveral in the 1980s, were shown at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.

Counterpoint, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 120 x 57 inches. [Photo credit: Jon Nalon, Tallahassee, Florida]

Red Interlock (1983), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, Private Collection.

Red Interlock was the cover image for the catalogue "Trevor Bell: a British Painter in America" for the 2003 exhibition at Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts in Tallahassee, Florida.

Temple Gate, 1985, acrylic on canvas, 108 x 162 inches. Collection: Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts. [Photo credit: Jon Nalon, Tallahassee, Florida]

The Artist and his wife Harriet Bell were inveterate travelers when they lived in Florida. They made a number of trips to India and some of the titles from the decade of the 1980s reflect the impressions of that travel.

Gumburanjon (1991), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Zanskar River, 1992, acrylic on canvas, 113 x 138 inches. Courtesy of Gillian Jason Modern and Contemporary Fine Art, London, UK.

“Certain experiences and choices have always affected my work, a love of the sea and sail, of places with good spaces, mountains, and natural forces at work.” –Trevor Bell, 1987

Split, 1998, acrylic on canvas, 65 x 69 inches. Courtesy of Lydon Fine Art, Chicago. [Photo credit: Steve Tanner, Photographics, Mousehole, Cornwall, UK.]

Youngker (2002), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

“I have always believed in the object nature and assertiveness of painting as an independent entity, but working in this vigorous Cornish place, I suspect my relationship to land, sea and weather plays a bigger role in my conscious—or unconscious—choices than I would like to admit.” --Trevor Bell, writing from Vellyndruchia, March 2001

Trawl (2002), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

The light in Cornwall can be a white radiance that allows for true color to be seen without ambient influence or tint.

White Fall (2002), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

The landscape of the Cornish coast is fretted by inlets known as zawns. Sheer and dangerous cliffs are part of the visual vocabulary. While Bell never paints the landscape in any figurative sense, he derives some of his contrasts from his memory of abrupt disjunctions and the power of the ocean at the edge of the land.

Donna (2003), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Anther, 2003, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 66 inches.

Still Night (2005), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

“I needed to make works which were quiet and did not give of themselves immediately. Something for the spirit, not of words, and an antidote to the vigorous complexities that surround us.” --Trevor Bell writing of the Still series.

Still Black (2005), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Still White (2005), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

”It has required a gradual ungaining of learning to achieve a full emptiness.” --Trevor Bell, July 2005

Still Dark (2005), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

Still Rose (2005), by Trevor Bell, Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

In 1996, Trevor Bell returned to the UK after a long and productive teaching career as Head of Painting at Florida State University. During his sojourn in America, he had produced major paintings such as Florida Queen in the collection of the Orlando International Airport, Pavanne in the collection of the Tallahassee Civic Center, and works commissioned for corporate and private collections in the United States.

Trevor Bell, Cornwall. [Photo credit: Steve Tanner, Photographics, Mousehole, Cornwall, UK.]

Credits: Story

Florida State University
MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS

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