About Beauty. Interview with Michael Bell by Isabel del Rio. Today, in the weekly section on Yareah Magazine of American artist Michael Bell, MBELLART, we are going to speak about a very personal topic: BEAUTY.
I.R.- Hi Michael, you know, I’ve been teaching Art History for years in a Secondary School. But I’m still surprised when my students exclaim: How Ugly! In front of Mona Lisa portrait or whatever portrait by Rubens. It’s clear, their opinions about beauty are really different to old masters opinions. What is yours? How would you define ‘beauty’?
M.B.- “Beauty” has always been explained to me by definition as a combination of qualities that pleases the aesthetic senses. As we evolve, as a human race, our aesthetic senses will constantly change, and surely the definition of beauty will as well. I believe beauty lies in the heart of a person’s soul, and what we recognize outwardly as beauty is much farther reaching than “skin-deep.” It’s that “inner beauty” that is seen with the heart, not just the eyes. It’s when the true self takes center stage. It’s what I see when I look into people’s souls that I paint. And while I spend a lot of time on the surface capturing outward appearance, it’s the “inside” that I’m really after. And if they’re truly “beautiful”, their beauty will emerge. As far as the Mona Lisa that’s a whole other discussion that gets into why was that beautiful for that particular time period.
I.R.- Of course, I usually ask them why. Why is Mona Lisa ugly? Because ‘she has no eyebrows or eyelashes and she is fat.’ They answer (imagine their comments seeing The Three Graces by Rubens). However in old times, ‘to be fat’ was synonymous with wealth, the same as ‘to have pale skin’, because they were showing they weren’t peasants. In your opinion, is the upper class who imposes its ideal of beauty?
M.B.- Yes and no. I believe the upper class have the wealth to generate the publicity surrounding their “brand” (whatever they might be promoting or showcasing for public consumption) and people will always look to the world’s upper class to see what they’re trending, and this could also include artists, actors, models and athletes…but I also see a generation who goes against the grain of the upper classes impositions, and in fact could be the one’s directly influencing that upper class in the first place. Think about rappers who have made it big, no longer live in the projects and are out of touch with the public they are target marketing. Where do you think they return to in order to find out what they “should be” trending? That’s right, where it all began – the gangsters in the projects. Me, I rock my own trends influenced by the old school days with a suit, open shirt, silk kerchief and matching silk tie criss-crossed over my chest. That’s my thing. People will start rocking it too – just you watch.
I.R.- And what do you think of tattoos? When I was little only brave sailors had tattoos and now, every celeb has one or two and they are considered artwork.
M.B.- It’s funny, I was wondering when you were going to bring up my tattoos. I don’t show them off much, but I’m willing to share a couple of them with you. I have around 5, and I do consider them priceless artwork. Ty Pallotta is my personal tattoo artist. He owns Premium Blend Tattoos on 777 East Bay Avenue in Manahawkin, New Jersey – down the Jersey Shore as you head into LBI. His website is http://777tattoos.com He’s 4 won tons of awards at Tattoo Conventions throughout the country. He specializes in realism, like me, and also has a great eye for communicating a story through his art. You’ve got to book him months in advance, but he’s definitely worth the wait if you want a real pro.
My St. Michael Arcangelo half-sleeve was born out of a story from when I was a kid that came full circle, much like the four horsemen angels encircling St. Michael on my arm. I was in trouble a lot as a kid, and one time it became the kind of trouble most people don’t walk away from. My life was flashing before my eyes and I was staring down the barrel at the possibility of going away for 20 years. I was just a kid, did something I shouldn’t have, but what I did was done for all the right reasons and I helped come to the defense of someone who needed help. Through it all there was this one Priest, John Ludway, who came to my defense, the only one that never judged me, he even gave me a key to the church at any time I wanted to go in and pray by myself. He also gave me this St. Michael the Archangel prayercard and told me to pray to him for help, and so I did, and it helped. About a year later blessed with a second chance at life.
Flash forward twenty or so years and here I am – that same prayer card still in my possession, kept tucked away in my pocket where I’ve carried it everywhere I’ve ever gone since. And then I get a phone call. A kid from Paterson, New Jersey who I began mentoring in art, who just won a Scholastic Arts Gold Key in Photography his Senior Year of High School, gets locked up. It’s a whole laundry list of charges. I’m the first one to get there and visit him at the jail where I find him behind that plate glass window. It was one of the saddest days of my career, wondering if there was more I could’ve done to have helped prevent him from landing here. We talked, I helped set his mom up with a lawyer friend of mine, and I gave him my twenty-year old St. Michael prayercard. I told him “a beautiful man once gave this to me and said it would help me. And it did. Maybe it will help you too.” It did, and now he’s studying photography in college and has a second chance at life. Whenever I see him he shows me the prayercard, still tucked in his pocket every day, just like it had been in mine for over 20 years.
When he was given that second chance I decided to see Ty and have an entire scene inked forever on my arm to protect me, since I didn’t have the prayercard anymore. It’s a beautiful montage of our struggle against the evil around us and will be with me forever.
The forearm tattoo is more recent. It says “Violet” and is an homage to my Grandmother Violet Vallery who passed away on May 10th of this year at the age of 95. I chose the forearm because, while I can’t see it as I look down at my arm – it’s facing out towards whatever I’m painting for my Grandma to be able to see it as I create it, as a way to keep her with me as I paint, forever and always.
I.R.- Finally, some feminine celeb you consider she is beautiful and why not, some famous handsome actor, model or singer.
M.B.- I’ve always thought Monica Bellucci, the Italian actress and model, is beautiful. There’s an intrigue about her – a mystery that she projects from the eyes and the way she carries herself that I find beautiful, even moreso than her outward beauty, which is apparent. As far as actors go, I’d have to say my best pal Dominic Capone, who bears the last name of his infamous Uncle Al Capone and is a spitting image of him. We’ve spent a lot of time together as close friends over the years and for all Dom’s street-tough exterior and secretive surface, he’s a beautiful man that would do anything for anybody and is like me in the fact that he often sacrifices a lot of himself for the success of others. You’ve gotta admire a person like that. I’d be comfortable saying he’s a beautiful man.