Stephen Bell was born in Belfast. His studies at degree level include architecture, ceramics and fine art. An important childhood influence was Quakerism with its values of integrity, truth and simplicity. Later this honesty was joined by the discovery of kitsch and pop culture, façades and theatrical effects. This confrontation between the two forms a thread throughout Bell’s work.
His practice is primarily painting, installation and photography. The work invariably has a strong conceptual element which acts as a base for the aesthetics. The aesthetics form the initial encounter with the work followed by a slow reveal. There are often layers which the viewer has to negotiate. Questions are more important than answers.
The focus is on what is represented, rather than how it is represented. It’s more about using aesthetics to raise questions about the status quo, politics, absence and the underrepresented.
The installations and paintings often refer to absence and implied presence. The absence can take many forms – from simple removal, to theft or censorship. He uses traditional painting techniques such as illusionistic representation and trompe l’oeil.
The paraphernalia connected to art is of great interest. The desire is to paint objects and subjects that wouldn’t normally be painted. He presents them in such a way that one becomes aware of their objecthood, through making them the central concern of the painting. There is a critical balance between the gestural and the graphic in the way the paint is applied.
Playing with scale and context is important, which comes from a heightened sense of spatial awareness and a strong interest in architecture. This manifests itself in a desire to see the work in context and to determine the way in which it is presented.
The composition is vital when taking photographs which is then often fed into Bell’s paintings. The elements of a work add up to a complete experience rather than just focussing on the central objects. A kind of playfulness and delight in the subject is important, often through emphasising the surreal and creating combinations of contrasting elements that resonate with each other.
City and Guilds of London, MA Fine Art
Bath Academy of Art, BA Hons Ceramics
Film for Isolation Room on Roamingroom.com
Koppel Project Hive
Collaborators 5, Roaming Room, The Old Telephone Exchange, Kennington
Collaborators 3, R O O M Gallery, Waterson Street, London
Museu do Açude, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil