Peace and Art. Interview with artist Michael Bell by Isabel del Rio

Peace and Art. Interview with artist Michael Bell by Isabel del Rio

Today, in the weekly section of American artist Michael Bell on Yareah: MBELLART an important topic: Peace and Art. Enjoy your week, friends.

I.R.- These days, we are worried with a possible new war, always a tragedy. It seems mankind is unable to end the suffering and destruction. Since I’m a teacher, I always thought that a better education could create a better world. In your opinion, could art play an important role in a new peaceful way of behavior?

M.B.- I believe artists have a special role to play in the global struggle for peace. At our best, we speak not only to the people, but for the people, “visually.” Art is our chosen weapon against ignorance and hatred. I’ve personally been vested in trying to do my part as an artist to raise awareness for global issues such as domestic violence, bullying, and our basic human rights. In 2012 I partnered with artist friend Eric Fischl and his America: Now and Here movement to create a project as a call for greater awareness and action in maintaining our declaration of 30 Human Rights. This collaboration also served as a celebration of the important role that artists play in responding to America and the world we live in. I believe artists have the ability to change viewpoints on a large scale and in a relatively short period of time. And there has never been a time where this is needed more than in today’s society.

Jude Harzer, Dorothy “Dee” Dunn, artist Eric Fischl and Michael Bell at the 2012 NAEA Convention, New York City

Jude Harzer, Dorothy “Dee” Dunn, artist Eric Fischl and Michael Bell at the 2012 NAEA Convention, New York City

I first shared this 30 HUMAN RIGHTS PROJECT along with Eric Fischl’s America: Now and Here movement to a crowd of 1,000+ Southern High School students and the local community at one of the nation’s largest annual student art shows that I sponsor (ArtQuest), along with Kathy Kahre-Samuels, President of ArtQuest, Inc. based out of St. Louis, MO. I put out a call to student artists in the school to get involved and they responded!  Student artists, ranging in age from 9th – 12th grade, chose a particular “human right” and then created a work of art to best illustrate their interpretation of that right and how it made them feel. This has inspired many discussions about America and the artist’s responsibility to make a difference in the human rights arena. I think it’s important for artists to connect with the community to help raise awareness on issues through speaking in a universal “visual language.”

I.R.- Of course, artists have celebrated peace and depict war too. And you? Do you have some work about the topic? Can you tell a little about it?

M.B.- Here’s 30 speed drawings of a single hollow-point bullet that I created and later mounted on wood taken from President Obama’s first Inaugural Address. This is the wood from the platform President Obama actually walked across. I was making a statement about how I feel about politics. Some are rendered better than others, some were quick 30 second studies, but all were finished in a total of 90 minutes and then strung together by chains so they could each “spin” just like a bullet would if they are mounted from a ceiling. These are also in the above video filmed shortly after I mounted them on the wood in my studio. This is about as close as I’ll come to depicting anything about war as a topic. 

Michael Bell, 30 in 90, mixed-media on Presidential Inaugural Wood Platform Pieces

Michael Bell, 30 in 90, mixed-media on Presidential Inaugural Wood Platform Pieces

Here are what I consider fabulous photographs created as self-portraits by a Southern High School student artist, Harrison Demas, for the “30 Human Rights Project” I created for Eric Fischl’s AMERICA: NOW AND HERE movement. These photographs were triumphant on many levels in my opinion. In the first one Harrison literally waited all winter for it to finally snow in order to get this one particular photograph. It only ended up snowing just one day this particular year, so when it started snowing he quickly got into costume, set up his tripod and nailed the shot before it stopped. The second photo speaks for itself about his interest in the topic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. I love this kind of dedication from a student artist!

Harrison Demas, Scene 6 and Scene 7 from his photographic series on PTSD, 2012.

Harrison Demas, Scene 6 and Scene 7 from his photographic series on PTSD, 2012.

I.R.- Since I’m Spanish, I’ve always present Guernica by Picasso. What do you think of this master piece? Why is Guernica so important for art history?

M.B.- Ahh Guernica, probably one of Picasso’s most famous and most political works. It’s also one of my favorite works of his because of his decision to create the piece in Black and White to heighten the drama, which I’ve done a lot throughout my career as you already know. I also like the universal symbolism at work here between the Bull representing Fascism and the Horse representing the people. This was cleverly thought out and executed with masterful precision and universal appeal.

Upon the painting’s completion, the fact that it traveled on a world tour to bring attention to the Spanish Civil War in such an innovative, artful way speaks for itself as to its importance for art history and “our history.” 

Painter of the Week Picasso. Today Guernica, 1937

Picasso, Guernica, oils on canvas,1937 c/o Wikipedia

This was the same kind of big idea Eric Fischl initially had when he began his AMERICA: NOW AND HERE movement, in order to create a cross-country dialogue between artists and art throughout America on Barbara Kruger-wrapped trucks. Bringing the art and artists to the people instead of the other way around. 

Eric Fischl, c/o

Eric Fischl, c/o

Thanks Michael. Always a pleasure to speak with you.

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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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