Charles Bell (1935-1995) was a seminal figure in the American Photorealist movement. His meticulously rendered, large-scale paintings elevate everyday objects—including children’s toys, marbles, gumball machines, and pinball machines—to the level of a traditional still life. While the use of photography informed his depiction of subjects considered Pop, Bell was a focused and disciplined artist employing traditional media: oil paint, watercolor and graphite. Though traditional in technique, Bell’s work is decidedly psychological. His tightly composed works create a richly detailed visual field that absorbs the viewer’s attention. Each work is a singular achievement in the exploration of light, incorporating Bell’s signature style of bright color and glossy reflection.
Charles Bell was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1935. After graduating with a degree in business administration from the University of Oklahoma, Norman, Bell served as a leader in the navy for two years. Although interested in art from a young age, he never received formal training. Instead, it was in the San Francisco studio of painter Donald Timothy Flores that Bell acquired his signature tromp l’oeil technique. Small-scale landscapes and still lives painted during this time earned him the Society of Western Artists award in 1968.
By 1967 Bell relocated to New York. Two years later he began showing his work at Louis K. Meisel’s gallery. Meisel was an early proponent of Photorealism and his SoHo gallery became the epicenter of the movement. While West Coast Photorealists preferred open landscapes, Meisel—like other New York Photorealists—focused intently on the staging of still lives.
As Bell’s career developed, he drew inspiration from artists working in diverse styles. The rich colors of Bell’s works readily admit the early influences of Wayne Thiebaud and Richard Diebenkorn. His rigorous attention to detail can be compared with the optical experiments and realism of Jan Vermeer. A brief friendship with Salvador Dalí inclined Bell’s later work toward the mysterious narratives of the surreal.
In addition to extensive solo exhibitions at the Meisel Gallery since the 1970s, Bell exhibited at many esteemed institutions including but not limited to: The Guggenheim Museum, The Smithsonian Institution, and the Museu de Arte Moderna in Brazil. Bell died in New York City in 1995.
2015 – “Important Works on Paper” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
2014 – “Photorealism: The Everyday Illuminated,” Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California
2006 – Louis K. Meisel Gallery, New York, New York
1997 – “Photorealists,” Savannah College of Art and Design Savannah, Georgia
1997 – “A Tribute to Frederick R. Weisman: Selections from the New Orleans Collection,” New Orleans Museum of Art New Orleans, Louisiana
1996 – “Since Statehood: Twelve Oklahoma Artists,” Oklahoma City Art Museum, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
1994 – “Solo Exhibition,” Louis K. Meisel Gallery New York, New York
1991 – “Intaglio Printing in the 1980’s,” Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, New Jersey
1988 – “Solo Exhibition,” Modernism San Francisco, California
1983 – “Solo Exhibition,” Hokin/Kaufman Gallery Chicago, Illinois
1980 – “New York Art Fair,” 7th Regiment Armory, New York, New York
1977 – “Recent Acquisitions,” Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, New York
1976 – Morgan Gallery, Shawnee Mission, Kansas
1974 – Tokyo Biennale ’74, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan
1973-78 “Photo-Realism 1973,” Cornell University, Ithaca, New York
1968 – Setay Gallery, Beverly Hills, California