Mbellart Weekly. Interview with artist Michael Bell. Today: Abstract Art

Mbellart Weekly. Interview with artist Michael Bell. Today: Abstract Art

Interview with Michael Bell by Martin Cid. Today: Abstract Art

MC.- Hello again, Michael. We would like to talk about artistic movements, Avant-garde… You are a figurative painter, I suppose. I’d like to know your opinion about Abstract art. Do you like it? What’s your opinion about it? Have you got a favourite Abstract painter?

M.B. – Hello Martin. So Abstraction is where we’re going this week. Interesting…

Yes, you could classify me as a figurative painter, since much of my work is rooted in narratives with people and body language playing an integral part. As far as my opinion on Abstract art – Do I like it? – No, personally I don’t.

My reason is simply that I just don’t ‘connect with it’ on any emotional level.  When I look at art I want to participate, examine the work and ‘become part of the experience’.  I have a hard time doing that with pure Abstract art, not that I haven’t given it a chance, and not that I don’t like pouring deep conceptual thought into a work.  I just have a problem with that being the end-all — trying to communicate using only formal qualities without any recognizable imagery to convey the message. I’m a rule breaker for sure, and I certainly love freedom of expression and expressive brushwork, drips and such, but for me I want more.  I want to know an artist also has some technical skills.

As far as your question on having a favourite Abstract painter, I’m going to throw you a curveball and say Francis Bacon. Now I know he’s not categorized as a “Abstractionist” but his work does have an abstract style to it and some viewed him as an Abstract Expressionist.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 94 cm x 74 cm (ea), 1944 c/o Wikipedia.

Francis Bacon, Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion, 94 cm x 74 cm (ea), 1944 c/o Wikipedia.

What I love about Bacon is how he combined the shock value of horrific scenes with traditional religious or literary sources, depicting crucifixions, screaming popes, torture, brutality and isolation. He expanded the figurative tradition of Western painting in this way. There’s somewhat recognizable imagery there, though abstracted, yet still narrative, still also figurative to a degree. His work makes me wonder if he was a serial killer. There’s something so compelling about it. It makes me not want to look away, but to look for more. The scale of some of his larger triptychs were impressive too. LOVE Francis Bacon!

Here’s one of my works that would be closest to connecting with Bacon. It’s from my “Carnevale Italiano” series, and is a larger-than-life sized painting of cotton candy hanging like slabs of meat would hang in a butcher shop. There’s actually screaming severed heads inside each bag of cotton candy if you look closely enough. Now everyone will have to go to to see what led up to this moment, and what is to come after…

Michael Bell, “Sweet Screams”, 48” X 96” oils on canvas, from Michael Bell’s “Carnevale Italiano Series”, 2011 c/o Michael Bell.

Michael Bell, “Sweet Screams”, 48” X 96” oils on canvas, from Michael Bell’s “Carnevale Italiano Series”, 2011 c/o Michael Bell.

M.B.- I also have a funny story about an experience I had with Abstract art.  I won’t mention any names, but years ago I was visiting an artist friend at the gallery he owned at that time. It was opening night for one of his Abstract artists. I arrived, picked up this HUGE inflated artist’s statement that I assure you anyone would need a PhD in order to comprehend, and began examining the works.  They were numerous, random sized canvases with multi-colored colored dots of varying sizes on each painting.  Eventually my gallery owner friend made his way over to me through the crowd and asked “What’s the matter, my friend?”  I quietly replied, careful not to offend the artist, while flipping through the inflated Artist’s statement in hand, “These are really just…DOTS…right?”  His reply, “Sadly, yes.” We had a good laugh about it later, and some deep discussion.

Now I know not all Abstract art is like that, and there are many highly celebrated abstract painters, but it’s just not for me.

MC.- Why have you chosen to be a figurative painter?

M.B.- I wouldn’t say I chose to become a figurative painter, I’d say it chose me. It’s how I communicate best visually. It’s just who I am as an artist. I think there is a danger in conformity – molding yourself after the patterns of others. To become successful – to become a rock star – you must have the self-confidence and belief in your vision and ability to carry them out while following your artist’s intuition without reasoning. Today’s artist needs to be a daring and persistent individual that beats to their own drum, sings with their own unmistakable voice. I found mine a long time ago, and as I look back at my career, it was there all along – deeply rooted in the narrative, and the figurative to help convey meaning.

MC.- Tell us about your personal choices. Have you thought about changing your style? Tell us your reasons.

M.B.- Martin, I couldn’t change my style if I tried. And I have tried abstraction before. I’m a terrible abstract painter though! I’ll even share one with you since I’m comfortable enough with who I am to make fun of myself too. My personal choices are rooted in how can I best connect my audience with the message I’m trying to convey, and also allow them a window to step into the painting and participate in thoughts surrounding what just happened or what might happen next, and for that to happen for me, all roads lead back to the figure. Thanks again for another interesting interview Martin. I hope I didn’t offend too many Abstractionists out there!

Michael Bell, “Psychotic Episode”, 42” X 48” oils on canvas, 2002 c/o Michael Bell.

Michael Bell, “Psychotic Episode”, 42” X 48” oils on canvas, 2002 c/o Michael Bell.

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is renowned American painter and muralist, famous for his larger-than-life sized narrative series paintings and for his infamous portrait clientele, which includes the late Mob Boss John Gotti, best friend Dominic Capone III (Al Capone’s great nephew) and numerous actors from The Sopranos, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and more. Yes, his works are the mirror of a tragic world, but they deepen our human psychology with strong brush strokes and vivid colors, from personal memories and silent echoes, with courage and creativity. Bell was naturally gifted in art and won 1st Place in his first juried art exhibition at age 5. As an emerging artist he spent a lot of his time in and around New York City, studying art with his maternal grandmother, Violet Vallery, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Then, after the still-born death of his sister Amanda and the sudden passing of his Grandfather, a former professional boxer, Bell began to explore life's personal and psychological issues through his paintings. In addition, Bell has written his first screenplay based on the real-life events surrounding his famous "TICKET TO RIDE™" painting series and has won three national awards in 2013. Bell exhibits his large, narrative series paintings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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