The reasons for Bell’s move to Florida become clearly apparent in this exhibition. In the ‘60s, the extroverted, almost crude power of his heraldic canvases (which Edward Gage and others had compared to kites, insignia, banners—that is, qualities extraneous to painting) seemed determined by his preoccupation with symmetry, deliberate control and a cerebral, conceptual approach. His works bore titles such as Split Jet, Cantilever, and Folded Painting. These enormous shaped or split, assertively colored forcefields were often sharply defined by blazing straight lines, and his best known paintings stressed brilliant, flat colors which thrust almost unchecked towards sometimes bevelled, trapezoidal, or triangular edges.
Leaving intensely deterministic pieces behind, and influenced by the power of space vehicles launched toward infinity at Cape Kennedy, Bell’s 1973 Burn and the Light Pillars extended bold, but more fluid color contrasts vertically. His 125-foot series of panels Southern Light in the Lewis State Bank, Tallahassee (1976) explored less strident, almost muted, yet still self-conscious color patterns. Then, nearly spontaneously, paintings bearing titles such as Seminole and Florida Queen became large windows for viewing an increasingly centripetal, more discrete equilibrium of exuberant colors which radiate from, and return to, fleeting centers, the locations of which are never precisely defined. The crisp, over demonstrative earlier brilliance has now been transmuted into subtly textural color equations which caress rather than charge or challenge the eye. The vibrating schemata of blues, greens, and yellows, often punctuated by reds, are not introverted, nor even introspective. Instead they evoke a quietly exuberant celebration of the southern landscape, its ever-present transparent blues carried by the lush, green horizon of tightly knit vegetation. This serenity is enhanced and energized by the spectacular sunrises and sunsets which pattern the sky with hues ranging from magenta to a surrealistically transparent green. His recent works uniquely evoke and subsume the powerful and gossamer strength of these panoramic spectra.
Bell’s quietly complex and powerful “light traps” obliquely refer to the ever changing permanence of light in an almost mystical and refined conjunction with the dynamics of earth. His increasingly serene works offer visual clues which transcend the pompous accoutrements of a time-bound culture. Bell’s work is truly advanced. His recent, timeless paintings have returned to the epic and universal quality of art as a meditative force.
From Trevor Bell, Florida 1980, exhibition catalogue: The Four Arts Center
(Institute for Contemporary Art, Florida State University School of Visual Arts)1980.
François Bucher was Professor of Art History at Florida State University in 1980.