TREVOR BELL

1930-2017

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It is with immense sadness that we announce that Trevor Bell passed away on Friday 3rd November, after a short illness. He was 87 years old.

Trevor was an wonderful and generous man, and an incredible artist. Up to the end he remained one of the most ambitious people that I have had the challenge and privilege of working with.

Some will mourn Trevor’s passing as the departure of the last of the ‘St Ives’ Modernists. In the past, I’ve encountered some people wanting to discuss his ‘St. Ives Modernist' legacy, with exclamations of how they love his work from the 50’s and 60’s. Trevor, would wryly reply “Oh that's a pity, I don’t make those anymore”. You see Trevor’s most important work was always to come.

As someone who has worked closely with him for the last 10 years of his life, I had the privilege of encountering someone capable of capturing and distilling natures physical and metaphysical complexity with a graceful rawness and often profound simplicity. In this day and age, where there is often such a disconnect between ‘us' and the ‘other', I always found his work to be profound and ever pertinent. He was always seeing and always searching, and his work never rested on its laurels, Trevor was too humble for that, and his art was about so much more than himself. As he often said he “was just in the middle”.

A great void is left. I've learnt so many lessons from him, and will miss him greatly. He leaves an incredible legacy, through which, to our benefit, his lessons continue.

Plans were already afoot for a major public Trevor Bell exhibition in the Spring - which now becomes an all the more fitting celebration. Further details will be announced in due course.


Yours Sincerely with sadness and in celebration.

 

Joseph Clarke  |  Gallery Director


 


 
 

Below is a short film I made with Alban Roinard prior to the solo exhibition ‘Link’. I was moved to re-watch it, so thought I would share this little snippet of the great man: :

 
 


Our last exhibition, ‘Beyond the Edge’ was to be Trevor’s last body of work. The profundity of this exhibition is all the greater now. I share below the introductions, written by Richard Davey and Mark Hudson as a fitting testament to Trevor’s achievements. I’m sure Trevor would have approved of focussing on what was his most recent work, which has now become the destination of his journey :

Trevor Bell’s latest works may be created from canvas and paint, but to describe them as paintings would be wrong. They are not intended to be representations of something else, nor are they self reflective works of ‘art for art’s sake’. Instead, they are self-contained objects, moments of wonder that Bell has found and brought into the light. They hover on the wall, differently sized and shaped canvases grouped together; colour propping up colour, their dynamic forms held in delicate tension or balanced with a gravity defying lightness.

Now eighty five,Trevor Bell is still pushing the boundaries, his new works taking us beyond the edge into a new territory. Colour no longer bursts out of the canvas to saturate the world and engulf the viewer. It is no longer there to prompt memories and demand an emotional response. Instead, Bell asks us to consider the weight of colour. He explores it as noun rather than adjective, something of mass and substance. It props up and balances; it serves as weight and counterweight, it asks questions of near and far. Associations with the landscape still linger in shades of purple, blue and sand, but they have become secondary in the balancing act that colour now performs.

Vibrant blacks dominate these paintings, a presence bursting into the world through a void of white. These blacks exert a gravitational pull that holds each painting down. However, look into these black holes and you become lost; freed from edges and boundaries, floating in the weightless vacuum of seemingly limitless space. It is then we notice the white, no longer an area of emptiness, but something of substance, a solid ground holding these bottomless pools. This constantly shifting tension between weight and weightlessness is reflected in the forms of these new works – fulcrums holding shapes of apparently different size in perfect balance, hinting at the optical illusion imposed by distance, where equivalence becomes difference and large becomes small.

These jagged black forms are not just about weight, however, but also about the process of emergence, the transition between being and nothingness, formlessness and form. Like the related series of Dance drawings, they serve as a choreographic notation, charting the progress of a line of energy as it is released into the world to become form.

There is a zen-like simplicity to Bell’s mark making, a rootedness in the present that is unrelated to anything outside itself. Each mark is like the duration of a breath - a self contained moment, yet dependent upon everything around it. These vivid marks trace the trajectory of Bell’s arm as it moves across the surface of paper and canvas, the thinning paint and ragged edges reflecting the slowly ebbing flow of pigment through the bristles of his brush.

Yet these new works are more than the marks that lie within the contours of the canvas. Around their edges are subtler lines – shadow-lines and imperceptible highlights that both contain and dissolve these active contours. They form a shifting penumbra that animates and activates these works – an edge, yet not an edge, holding and caressing each work, allowing it to dissolve into the space beyond.

What Bell has caught in these new works is that moment between inhalation and exhalation, the unnoticed tension that separates one thing from another. These self contained objects are not about anything, they don’t refer to anything, they are not subject to anything. They are. They are celebrations of existence and being, that take us beyond the edge of form into the space of becoming.

Richard Davey, 2016

(Richard Davey is an internationally published author, curator and member of the International ‘Association of Art Critics’. He is a judge of the John Moores Painting Prize 2016 and recently wrote the major exhibition publication for Anselm Kiefer’s solo exhbiition at the Royal Academy of Arts, in 2014 alongside the 2015 and 20 16 ‘RA Summer Exhibition’ catalogues.)


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Everyone wants to be first; no one wants to be last. Trevor Bell is often seen as the last of the great St Ives artists. Yet he is in many ways not a St Ives artist at all. A Yorkshireman, Bell first came to Cornwall in 1955, in the middle of St Ives’s great post-war modernist moment, at the suggestion of one of the key artists of the era, Terry Frost. The experience brought him into close contact with all the significant St Ives figures, gave him an umbilical link to pre-war constructivism via Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth – and helped facilitate a meteoric rise through the London gallery circuit, which saw him described, by Patrick Heron, as Britain’s “best non-figurative painter under thirty” in 1958. Yet far from putting down permanent roots in the manner of many incoming artists, Bell soon returned to his home city Leeds, taking up a Gregory Fellowship at the university and becoming involved in radical educational developments at the city’s art college. He subsequently spent twenty-five years teaching and working in America.

Bell’s pivotal early epiphany came not in response to Cornwall’s light or landscape, but on a visit to Paris while a student at Leeds College of Art in the very early 1950s. In the Musee de l’Homme in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, Bell first saw African art: standing in practically the same spot in which Picasso had seen many of the same objects, in a different museum on the same site, forty-five years earlier. Looking into the “dusty cases”, appalled, yet fascinated by the powerful smell of the tropical wood and raffia, Picasso had observed that there was “everything” there. The young Bell, who had had barely any exposure to modern art, was impressed by the “the actual presence, the realness” of these objects – the severely abstracted form of a Dogon figure, for example, or the vital curves of a Basongye mask – by the fact that this art that wasn’t the representation of something, but a thing in its own right: “‘it’, as opposed to the illusion of ‘it’, the god itself, rather than the illusion of a god”.

It was a moment that set Bell’s work on a lifelong dialogue between painting as illusion and painting as object, painting as application and painting as fabrication; a tension which bore fruit in his shaped canvases of the early 1960s, and is still directly apparent in the powerful, yet wonderfully lyrical shaped works in this exhibition. Bell’s use of shaped canvases has been described as the element that most marks him out from the mainstream of St Ives art, that gives him at least as much in common with American post-painterly abstractionists such as Frank Stella and Ellsworth Kelly, as with the likes of Lanyon and Hilton.

But let’s not overstate Bell’s disconnectedness from something to which he is patently connected. Trevor Bell lived in Cornwall from 1955 to 1960. He returned in 1996, and has lived here ever since. While his work is emphatically not of or about landscape, it is powerfully affected by the physical environment in which it is made – just as “what the artist ate for breakfast that morning must affect what he or she paints,” as Bell is fond of observing. “How can you be here in this wind and rain and sunlight, and that not affect your work?”

Trevor Bell is not a “Cornish artist”, but he is very much here in Cornwall.

Mark Hudson, 2016

(Mark Hudson is an internationally published author and regular art and music critic for the Daily Telegraph, and has also written for The Observer, The Mail on Sunday, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times and The Guardian His books include The Last Days of Titian, Our Grandmothers’ Drums, Coming Back Brockens and The Music in my Head.)

 


 
 

Below is a video tour of ‘Beyond the Edge’, Trevor’s final body of work :

 
 


Here is a full obituary as a reminder of Trevor’s mighty achievements over such a long and illustrious career :

The elemental abstract painter Trevor Bell, renowned for his large scale shaped canvases, has died aged 87. Bell was as an important figure within the St Ives post war modernist movement, but he also spent a significant part of his career in the US, 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 then contemporary work shown alongside key works drawn from five decades of painting. The exhibition was a celebration of mutable energy, elemental forces and quest for contemplative stillness typical of Bell’s oeuvre. 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."

Bell was born in Leeds in 1930. His Father, Harold was a sales rep, and his Mother, Elizabeth a teacher. After leaving Roundhay school he went to Leeds College of Art on a scholarship from 1947 to 1952. It was there that he met Dee Hobdell, whom he later married in 1952, they had a son named Gregory together.

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. In the catalogue for his first solo exhibition, at Waddington Gallery, London in 1958, 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. A less settled period followed the Gregory fellowship, which also saw the end of his first marriage to Dee. During this chapter he taught in a variety of art schools, and then became head of painting at Winchester School of Art from 1965 to 1970, where he married Eirian Edwards and they had a son named Sion.

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.

In 1975 Bell’s marriage to Eirian came to an end, and Bell located to the U.S in 1976 after being appointed by Florida State University to become Professor for Master painting. He later married the artist Harriet Corder. 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 and Harriet moved to an isolated farmhouse in Penwith, and the barns were converted in to large scale studio’s for them to continue to make work with notable ambition. The couple travelled widely with memorable trips to the Zanskar river valley in the Ladakh region of India, where its raw beauty and Buddhist monasteries and shrines became a continued source of inspiration for major works.

In later years 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.

Bell was often frustrated by those who wanted to place him in a historical pigeon hole and so continued to push his process up to the end of his life defying the physical limitations of age. He would often reply to talk of his early works by responding “Oh that's a pity, I don’t make those anymore”. For Trevor his most important work was always to come. 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.

He is survived by his beloved wife Harriet, and by his sons Gregory and Sion.


‘Art does not make social statements, but contributes to society on a deeper, less tangible level. I feel that what we should get from art is a sense of wonder, of something beyond ourselves, that celebrates our ‘being’ here.’

Trevor Bell (Modern Painters), 2002

 

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2016
Beyond the Edge, Anima-Mundi
2014
The Wind The Space, Millennium, St. Ives 2013
Orlando City Art Gallery, Florida USA
Florida State University, Florida, USA

2012
Link, Millennium, St. Ives

2011    
80 Years Young, Waterhouse and Dodd, New York

2010    
Trevor Bell at Eighty - Earth Air Fire Water Aether
Nothing Extra, Waterhouse and Dodd, London

2009    
Haste Slowly, Millennium, St.Ives
Nothing Extra, Leeds University Gallery
Moving Right Along, Waterhouse & Dodd, London

2007    
White and Colour, New Millennium Gallery, St Ives

2006
Before Sea, After Earth, Waterhouse & Dodd, London
Large Works, Waterhouse & Dodd, London
Saïd Gallery, Oxford

2005
Still – The New Paintings, Lydon Fine Art, Chicago
Trevor Bell: Heatscape – The Florida Six and Still – The New Paintings,
Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, Bournemouth
Calm Squares, Allusive Forms, New Millennium Gallery, St Ives
Recent Work, Lydon Fine Art, Chicago

2004/5
Trevor Bell: Beyond Materiality, Tate Gallery, St Ives

2003    
New Millennium Gallery, St Ives
Trevor Bell: A British Painter in America, Florida State University
Museum of Fine Arts, Tallahassee, Florida
The Gulf Coast Museum, Largo, Florida

2002    
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago
Galerie Pelar Ltd, Greenport, New York
Seven Worchester, Bath

2001    
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago
New Millennium Gallery, St Ives

2000    
North Light Gallery, Huddersfield

1999    
Stephen Lacey Gallery, London

1998    
Hodgell Gallery, Sarasota, Florida
Falmouth College of Arts, Falmouth

1996
Illinois Centre, Chicago

1995    
Art Collectors Gallery, Coral Gables, Florida
Mercantile Exchange Building, Chicago
Marsha Orr Contemporary Fine Art, Tallahassee, Florida

1994    
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago

1993
Division of Cultural Affairs, Tallahassee, Florida
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago Lin & Keng Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan

1992    
Foster Harmon Gallery, Sarasota, Florida
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago
Jaffe/Baker Gallery, Boca Raton, Florida

1992
621 Gallery, Tallahassee, Florida

1991
Gloria Luria Gallery, Miami
Florida Center for the Arts, Vero Beach, Florida

1990
Foster Harmon Gallery, Florida
Lydon Fine Art, Chicago
Eve Mannes Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia
Gillian Jason Gallery, London

1989
New Art Centre, London
Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Gloria Luria Gallery, Bal Harbour, Florida

1988    
Atlantic Center for the Arts, New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Charleston College, South Carolina

1986
Foster Harmon Gallery, Sarasota, Florida
Cummer Museum, Jacksonville, Florida

1985
Metropolitan Museum, Coral Gates, Miami, Florida
Gloria Luria Gallery, Bal Harbour, Florida

1984    
Big Magenta installation, Florida State University Center for Professional Development, Tallahassee, Florida

1983
Shaped Work from the 60s, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida

1982    
National Academy of Science, Washington DC
Artspace, Miami, Florida

1981
Intimate Works on Paper, Virginia Miller Gallery, Coral Gables, Florida
Artspace, Miami, Florida
University of Central Florida, Orlando, Florida

1980
Five Bar exhibited, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
Four Arts Center, ICA, Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
Major Works. Virginia Miller Gallery, Coral Gables, Miami, Florida

1975    
Southern Cross exhibited, Bundestag, Bonn, Germany

1974
Corcoran Gallery, Washington D.C.

1973
Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

1970    
Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
Arts Council of Northern Ireland Gallery, Belfast
Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield
Park Square Gallery, Leeds

1969
Lancaster University Greenwich Gallery, London

1964
Waddington Gallery, London

1962
Waddington Gallery, London

1963    
Bear Lane Gallery, Oxford

1960
Waddington Gallery, London

1958    
Waddington Gallery, London


SELECTED PUBLIC COLLECTIONS

Abbot Hall Gallery, Kendal
Aberdeen Art Gallery
Arts Council of Great Britain
American Express
Astra Zeneca, Boston, Massachussetts
Balliol College, Oxford
Nett Bank, Florida
British Council
British Museum
Broward County Courthouse, Florida
Clearwater Federal, Clearwater, Florida
Coca-Cola World Headquarters, Florida
Contemporary Arts Society
Department of Management Services, Tallahassee, Florida
Department of Transportation, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Deutsche Morgan Grenfell
Education Authority, Hull
Falmouth Art Gallery, Cornwall
Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, Georgia
Florida House of Representatives, Tallahassee, Florida
Florida Power and Light, Miami, Florida
Florida State University Museum, Florida
Getty Center for the History of Art, Los Angeles, California
IBM Collection, Atlanta, Boca Raton, Florida and New York
Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle
Leeds City Museum
Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Florida
McMaster Museum of Art, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Northwest Regional Data Center, State University System, Florida
Orlando Aviation Authority, Florida
Park Bank, Sarasota, Florida
Pegasus Solutions, Dallas Texas
Philips International, Eindhoven, Holland
Phoenix Art Museum, Arizona
Playboy Corporation Collection, Chicago
Polk Museum, Florida
Prudential Insurance Collection
Regency Group Collection
Ringling Art Museum, Sarasota, Florida
Rouse Company Collection
Rugby Library, Gallery & Museum
Shearson Lehman Hutton Collection, New York
Slaughter and May, London
Southern Bell, Jacksonville, Florida
St Anne’s College, Oxford
St Catherine’s College, Oxford
Tate Gallery, London
Trinity College, Oxford
University of Leeds
University of Stirling
University of Sussex, Brighton
UVU Keleia Collection, Ljubljana
Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Wakefield City Art Gallery
Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester
John Lewis Group
Terence Disdale Design
Numerous private collections in Europe, Canada and the United States


PRIZES AND FELLOWSHIPS

Paris Biennale Major Prize Winner
Gregory Fellow, Leeds University
Italian Government Scholarship
Florida Art Fellowship
Emeritus Professor, Florida State University
Honorary R.W.A
Honorary Fellow, University College Falmouth


FURTHER READING

Trevor Bell by Chris Stephens, published by Sanson & Company, ISBN 978-1-904537-88-5


 

TREVOR BELL

1930-2017

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