Charles Bell


Charles Bell (b.1935, Tulsa, OK; d.1995, Manhattan, NY) is considered a master of the Photorealist still life, renowned for his paintings of pinball machines, children’s toys and other whimsical objects. In contrast to other artists associated with early Photorealism, Bell never received any formal art training. In 1957 he earned a degree in Business Administration from the University of Oklahoma before serving two years in the US Navy, moving to San Francisco around 1960. While working in the studio of painter Donald Timothy Flores, Bell learned the technique of trompe l’oeil, painting landscapes and still lifes that earned him the Society of Western Artists Award in 1968. Bell moved to New York in 1967. Two years later began regularly showing at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, simultaneously working as comptroller for the International Nickel Corporation until becoming a full-time artist in 1980.


While most West Coast Photorealists preferred landscapes, particularly images of cars, trucks and homes within a suburban setting, Bell, like many New York–based Photorealists, focused on still life. Drawing inspiration from America’s love affair with consumer culture, play, toys and arcade games, Bell’s images celebrate these colourful worlds of children and adults, enlarging ordinary objects like toys and gumball machines to an unusually grand scale. Based on close-up photographs that Bell magnified many times before projecting them onto canvas, these paintings capture their subjects' highlights, reflections and iridescent surfaces. 

In addition to 10 solo shows at the Louis K. Meisel Gallery, Bell’s work was included in Photo-Realism 1973, organised by Louis K. Meisel Gallery (1973–78), and Assignment: Aviation—The Stuart M. Speiser Photo-Realist Collection, organised by the Smithsonian Institution (1983–85), as well as exhibitions at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT (1974); Tokyo Biennial (1974); Guggenheim Museum, NY (1977, 1981); Museu de arte moderna de São Paulo (1995); and Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin (2009). More recent institutional exhibitions include Hyperrealismo 1967-2013, Bilbao Fine Arts Museum, Spain (2015); Photorealism: 50 Years of Hyperrealistic Painting (2013-2017), which opened in Kunsthalle Tübingen, Germany, before touring to 10 locations and From Lens to Eye to Hand: Photorealism 1969 to Today, Parrish Art Museum, New York (2017–2018). Bell’s works are held in collections including the Art Museum of Southeast Texas, Beaumont; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington DC, and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in Japan, among others.
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