It is six years since Trevor Bell last had an exhibition (at the Waddington Gallery). He was in his early thirties and I remember feeling that it was an in-between show. Then he disappeared from the gallery scene. What has he been doing all this time? Last week the answer came in Edinburgh. In a large retrospective at the handsome Demarco Gallery he emerges as a mature and maybe important painter.
A knowing eye might detect traces of his earlier landscape based work in these new abstract acrylic pieces, but the change is drastic, both in scale, dynamics and presence. In this extensive show (25 paintings, mostly very large and many works on paper) Bell manages to pursue several interesting hares simultaneously without ever losing control or direction. His overriding preoccupations seem to be structural ones. He likes to build up a single image from an articulated group of separate elements, often opening up gaps between them through which the wall on which they hang enters as a final component. A kind of poised precariousness is set up, a stasis composed of possibilities of change.
This single image is essentially dynamic. The eye is drawn across, or less often,round the structure which itself suggests movement, like the limb of some flying machine dreamed up by Leonardo. He likes to hang the pieces- which mainly have an upward springing form- just a few inches off the floor; they have a base but it is not fixed.
Within these forceful moving images Bell introduces a variety of texture, density and colour. Some times the forms are solid; sometimes they seem to hold thin layers of colour - mostly very sombre. Two or three of the paintings are bright and luminous, springing out from clearly marked hinges. In 'Name' thin lines criss-cross a singing blue like wire struts, between yellow strips so widely separated that they blink on the very edge of the eye like shop lights as you drive down a street
The paintings make an uneven impact (their expanding, lifting shapes devour the wall space and cannibalise each other) and the small, earlier shaped canvases are no match for the new ones. But the standard is impressive. The most striking for me was one of the latest, called 'Cantilever' - a huge almost black - and - white structured arm reaching out asymmetrically across the wall from a vertical orange beam. It is as potent an image as the pier of the old Forth Bridge up the river, one of the most positive I have seen from a British painter in a long time.
The Observer, 7th. June 1970, Nigel Gosling.