New York, New York, USA
Summary of Leland Bell
Leland Bell, a post-war American painter, musician and instructor, defied categorization, creating works that were simultaneously classical, abstract, and representational. He set himself apart from his peers with a unique, rhythmic style that employed strong outlines, bold sections of color, and an engaging dynamism. Bell embraced the human figure as a primary subject when other artists were moving away from figurative representation. His artwork's exuberant take on everyday life did not conform to any one movement, making Bell distinctive within the art world.
- A former jazz drummer, Bell was drawn to the rhythmic movement in the artwork of Balthus, Alberto Giacometti, and Piet Mondrian, all of whom greatly influenced Bell's own aesthetic style.
- Bell's most frequent subject was his own personal, domestic life. Unlike his contemporaries who sought to transcend or re-imagine the everyday world, Bell rejoiced in it.
- Bell reworked his artworks numerous times, even after they were displayed or published, remaining passionate about painting as a continual process rather than a means to create a final product.
Biography of Leland Bell
Leland Bell was born in Cambridge, Maryland, in 1922, and grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. As a young boy, he was interested in drawing, often copying Norman Rockwell's illustrations and pictures in cowboy books. He also earned extra money by drawing caricatures for people on the street. Bell's other passion, jazz, led him to frequent New York's jazz clubs. In high school, Bell's Russian-Jewish parents moved the family to Washington, D.C. where he occasionally cut class to copy the works he saw at Phillips Memorial Gallery (now the Philips Collection) and the Library of Congress, and was particularly drawn to works by Paul Klee and Thomas Eakins.
Important Art by Leland Bell
Based on photographs of a weekend spent with family and friends, Croquet Game is one of the few paintings Bell has not modified since its original creation. It is representative of the recurring, career-long motif of family and domestic scenes. At the far left is Bell with his arm around his wife Ulla, who appeared in many of Bell's works, showing a tender connection between the two. The profound influence of Helion and Léger on Bell's work is apparent even in these early works, particularly in Bell's dark outlines that would become starker and crisper in his later paintings.
Given his focus on domestic life, still life arrangements were unsurprisingly a frequent subject for Bell. In these paintings, he often included disparate objects such as roses, skulls and cymbals, the latter a reference to his musical interests. Even in this seemingly static scene, Bell found ways to integrate movement through shadow and in the folds of the fabric. While remaining abstract, the carefully placed objects in these still life paintings each have a strong, distinct presence; the black outlines give clarity to the individual parts while bringing harmonious balance to the composition. In addition to the outlines, Bell's use of flat color and manipulations of perspective are reminiscent of works by Léger.
In many of Bell's works, the arms and legs are a primary focus to convey a feeling of movement. Here, the curves of Temma's limbs are echoed in various parts of the chair, the curved shadow under the chair and the shapes delineated on her dress. These curves contrast with the sharp, geometric shapes of the furniture and surrounding architectural frame. Temma in Orange Dress is one of many canvases Bell painted of his daughter throughout his career.
Influences and Connections
Useful Resources on Leland Bell
- Leland BellBy Nicholas Fox Weber
- Changing Rhythms - Works By Leland Bell (1950s-1991)Our PickBy Martica Sawin, Robert M. Murdock, Steven Harvey, and Andrea Packard
- Leland Bell. Paintings. 15 October to 15 November 1980
- Painter Leland Bell, A Great Lecturer, Finally Gets ExhibitOur PickBy Hilton Kramer / The New York Observer / September 22, 2002
- Everyday EpicBy Jed Perl / The New Republic / April 27, 2011
- Leland Bell, a Figurative Painter, Teacher and Lecturer, Dies at 69By Roberta Smith / The New York Times / September 20, 1991
- "Smooth" Canvases at Leland Bell ExhibitBy Vivien Raynor / The New York Times / April 1, 1983