Trevor Bell: Southern Light & Pavanne

Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts

“Southern Light,” 1976, 21 panels, 8 feet by 125 feet. Shown installed at the Lewis State Bank, Tallahassee, Florida. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University.

Trevor Bell’s Southern Light and Pavanne

Roy Slade, excerpted from “Trevor Bell: a British painter in America” (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, 2003), 14: In the past few years in Tallahassee, the experience of object and perception controlling the environment is readily apparent, particularly in a vast painting installed in a local bank. The painting dominates and enriches the building’s interior. Twenty-five panels, each eight feet high and six feet wide, cover 125 feet of wall space situated behind the tellers’ counter. Lateral and vertical progression through the spectrum gives an overwhelming sense of light and color.

The commission was difficult as the bank was black and austere. However, within the formal rigidity of the anonymous architecture, the paintings breathe light and luminosity. The painting becomes not only the focus of the interior but the interior itself. Mastery of color and form combined in a simplicity of statement articulates the space. The physicality of the work and the sensation of seeing give a sensation of awe. The painting is titled Southern Light, a tribute to the influence of the sun and warmth of the painter’s new surroundings.

Pavanne, 1982, acrylic on canvas, 180 x 180 inches. Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Florida State University.

Roald Nasgard, excerpted from “Trevor Bell: a British painter in America” (Tallahassee, FL: Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts, 2003), 60: Elsewhere . . . Bell sets spectral color a play across rows of narrow vertical trapezoids spaced along the gallery wall, a strategy that culminated in a mural commissioned for the Lewis State Bank in Tallahassee, Southern Light (1976) which runs 125 feet and twenty-one panels, hung side by side, dazzlingly pulling the eye through the gamut of the colors of the rainbow from the deepest of blues to the most brilliant yellows.

Size per se was of course not the issue. The issue was to use the stretch and shape of the individual canvas—shape until the mid-1980s was never more irregular than the regular trapezoid—or multiple canvases, to release light and color with full intensity. This is also why the objectness of early 1973 had to cede to surface articulation. Occasionally, as in the earlier British work, the spaces separating the individual panels were visually activated by edges beveled so that they faced towards the wall, and painted to cast a glow of colored light onto the wall in between—Burn is an example—but this bevel effect was also soon abandoned. Bell’s significant realization was that colour need not be shaped but should be released into fluidity. Edges consequently softened and colors increasingly smoldered, their temperatures modulated, as they sped aloft. In the multiple panel paintings his interest turned to what he called “color pulses” —to the way in which the eye can be constantly shifted across the surface of the canvas in rhythmic progressions, drawing analogues between this “eye travel” – a felicitous phrase he recently used —and the experience of listening to music, colour pulsations working as relations of tones, intervals, rhythms and counterpoints for the eye rather than the ear. Pavanne (1982), a large painting for the then new Tallahassee / Leon County Civic Center took its title from the stately court dance of the 16th century, just as an early 1962 commission for the Phillips Record Company collection in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, was called, after Bach, Art of the Fugue.

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