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#ArtDept: The Photorealsim Paintings of Charles Bell


Charles Bell (1935 – 1995) had no formal training as an artist. He claimed that he was inspired by the work of painters Richard Diebenkorn and Wayne Thiebaud.

His subject matter was mostly vintage toys, pinball machines, gumball machines, marbles, and dolls and action figures, arranged in imaginary scenes and dynamic compositions, cast in dramatic studio lighting. Bell wanted to bring majesty and wonder to the mundane. His work, done mostly in oil paint, is noted not only for their glass-like surface, but also for their significant scale.

In 1995, he was included in the exhibition titled American Masters at the Museu d’Arte Moderne in São Paulo, along with Robert Indiana and Andy Warhol, two artists Bell admired.

“The Judgment Of Paris”, 1986

Bell helped popularized the “Photorealism” movement. He embraced a photo-based technique in his work in a way that shows imperceptible details, photographing his subjects in still-life compositions and painting from his image.

Bell transformed his everyday subject matter by enlarging ordinary objects to an unusually grand scale, denying narrative readings of his work. He described his approach to selecting subject matter as more of an emotional than intellectual process. The hyperrealistic precision of his technique, combined with the exaggerated scale, produces a sensation that, for me, moves between familiarity and mystery.

Born and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Bell earned a degree in Business from the University of Oklahoma in 1957, then served for two years in the U.S. Navy. After the navy, like so many other sailors of the era, Bell landed in Francisco where he began to paint. He moved to NYC in 1967 and set up a studio on Lower Broadway. Bell worked as an accountant for the International Nickel Corporation by day, until 1980, after which he made enough money from sales of his paintings to give up his day job.

Bell left this world in 1995, taken by the plague at just 60-years-old. His partner of 22 years, interior decorator Willard K.H. Ching (1942 -1992), had been taken by AIDS three years earlier. They are buried together at Diamond Head Memorial Park, Honolulu.

Bell’s works can be seen in collections at The Metropolitan Museum of Art (MoMa), Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, and his home gallery Louis K. Meisel Gallery in NYC, among many others.



“Untitled” 1990

“Ta-Daa”, 1985

“Paragon”, 1988

“Oh Boy”, 1990

“Gumball II, 1973

“Circus World”, 1989

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