Visual Art | The Bell Curve: Artist John Bell continues thinking “like a builder” in a new gallery space. | Arts & Entertainment | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Visual Art | The Bell Curve: Artist John Bell continues thinking “like a builder” in a new gallery space. 

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A new yet familiar gallery space opens with a flourish this month featuring a local powerhouse. The owner of Campo Furniture on Highland Drive, Brian Seethaler, was losing his lease after 12 years. He decided to do something different with the 19,000-square-foot building for its final months after talking to 337 Project founder Adam Price, who introduced him to artist John Bell. Bell’s Size Matters exhibit has become the first show for what Seethaler has dubbed the “Pop Shop.” After his lease on Highland Drive ends in May, Seethaler plans to coordinate with local real-estate developers to continue his “Pop Shops” project, showcasing art installations in vacant offices and retail locations. n

Bell attended the Pittsburgh Art Institute, but instructors warned him not to expect to make money in fine art, so he worked in advertising, but found the industry “too cutthroat.” Bell came to Utah 16 years ago to start the outdoor clothing company Huge and later its subsidiary, which specializes in artist/musician T-shirt collaborations. He moved here when life in Breckenridge, Colo.—where he started the firm—became “a little too much Friday night every night.”


It took Bell until 2003 to decide he was ready to exhibit, which he did at Daryl Erdmann’s Chroma Gallery in Sugar House. His work there sold briskly, and since then he’s had 27 exhibits including New York, Los Angeles and Miami during Art Basel 2008. His work is in many private collections on the West and East coasts.n

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His “A-ha!” moment came in 2004, after he bought a home in Emigration Canyon to fix up. “I saw lines of ethereal light coming through the big glass windows and wanted to find a way to paint like that,” he says.


“John was a great abstract expressionist painter,” says Seethaler, “but he has transcended that to create his own mixture of print and popular media.”


Bell’s art since then has shown a definite architectural influence. “I want to give the illusion of space,” he explains. “I think like a builder. I wanted to know if a painting can live where a sculpture lives: kinetically, driven by external forces.”


His four-sided, X-shaped pillars take on a different profile from each angle. “From there, I got inspired by everything,” he says. “Color field, pop art, music and theater. Working in multiple disciplines, I discovered that while they seem to be parallel pursuits, they inform and influence each other in multiple ways, eventually reaching a point where the lines blur and they become one.”


The triptych “Identity, Memory and Loss” features painted-over photos of Jewish children kidnapped by Nazis and placed in labor camps, then after the war, given boards to write their names for relocation. “What runs in magazines today about identity?” he says. “I want to ask what makes up our identity, and what are we willing to give up?” His work asks a lot of deep but also emotionally moving questions.


“Einstein’s Dream #1-3” takes up the notion from Alan Lightman’s novel Einstein’s Dream that time is cyclical. Segments of faces, text and abstraction are intercut with slices of pure white shards of a mirror in which temporal reality is reflected. “Painting is my filter for everything, even life,” he explains.


“The Day de Kooning Died” shows the artist bicycling, under the crossword-puzzle pattern from the March 19, 1997, New York Times, the day the Dutch painter passed on. And “De Kooning May Have Been Right About Women” captures De Kooning’s frantic depiction of femininity, but in the chaos of getting the show ready, Bell hung it upside down by accident.


Bell’s 10-year “Sprawl” project is composed of snapshots looking up at the sky, the corners of tall buildings in the corners of the images. “I combine them and use the corners as threads to draw with.” he says. “Monolith #6” is a large box jutting out from the wall with paint so thick it could have been applied with a trowel. Looking at the black shapes converging into relief against a blue background, it feels like you are looking upward at towering structures.


Humor comes into his work in the advertising parody “Believe Everything,” in which a model says, “Total strangers are so totally going to want to have sex with me because I have this watch.” It’s just one more point on his stylistic spectrum, borrowing from everywhere yet never seemingly derivative.


Photos of his upcoming unfinished work “I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Kick Your Ass” can be seen with him painting figures of famous artists on a large canvas, then wrapping it around a punching bag and slugging it. As Bell describes it, “It’s about mastering your fear.” CW


Size Matters: John Bell
nPop Shop, 2855 S. Highland Drive,
nThrough Feb. 14, Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.

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