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Joseph Clarke on Trevor Bell's posthumous exhibition in Plymouth



My good friend, Trevor Bell, passed away on Friday 3rd November 2017, after a short illness. He was 87 years old.

Trevor was a wonderful, generous, ambitious and humble man who also happened to be an incredible artist. Up to the end he remained one of the most focussed and determined artists that I have had the challenge and privilege of working with. Trans-Form was our final collaborative project.

Many will have mourned his passing as the departure of the last of the ‘St Ives’ Modernists. In the past, I encountered those wanting to discuss with him this ‘St. Ives Modernist’ legacy, with exclamations of how they love his work from the 50’s and 60’s. Trevor, would wryly reply “Oh that's a pity, I don’t make those anymore”. You see, Trevor’s most important work was the work yet to come.

As someone who worked closely with him for the last 10 years of his life, I had the privilege of continually encountering an artist capable of capturing and distilling physical and metaphysical complexity with a graceful rawness and sophisticated simplicity. In this day and age, where there is often such a disconnect between ‘us' and the ‘other', his work was ever profound and pertinent, ever-feeling, ever-seeing and ever-searching, and his work, as a result, never rested on its considerable laurels. His art was about so much more than himself. As he often said he “was just in the middle”.

The curator Chris Stephens (when head of displays at Tate Britain) said "Bell’s art is, in the loosest sense, spiritual. It evokes, or reflects, an idea of some abstract force that exceeds material reality... The dangers and losses of the modern world would be compensated through the rediscovery of natural order and process, and a renewed sense of individual identity would be established through the exploration of forces larger than ourselves. Bell’s work, one might say, has always derived in one way or another from this new sublime."

Albert Einstein once simply stated “Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” For Trevor the role as conduit allowed these expressions of force and energy, part of, yet greater than, oneself to be expressed on to the canvas. This role of conduit is one where the artist becomes an edge breached, where energy moves beyond threshold. This liminality is central to the art objects that Trevor has created. It was not about that energy being illusionistically represented on the canvas, but a gestural record of its journey. The shaped form allowed for that expression to continue beyond the edge of the work itself. The work was just an ongoing trace.

His final body of work ‘Beyond the Edge’ was exhibited at Anima-Mundi in 2016. Key paintings from this period are included in this exhibition. They represented clearly Trevor’s intention for his expression to be read beyond the object itself, for the space around the work to become active. The period that preceded the making of his final paintings was also marked by his collaboration with the choreographer Rodger Belman in the States. Belman had responded to a series of Trevor’s drawings, which became choreographic studies for a series of performances in Florida. For Trevor this was exciting. His works as conduit. Literal borders breached once more.

Initial discussions around this exhibition at Plymouth began at the same time. It was natural, therefore, that this exhibition continued the work that had been started. The conceived project became an exciting one, to take key and favoured paintings from the studio, where transference of energy was intrinsic and allow them to serve as conduit for further forms of expression. To allow the spirit of, and in, the work to go beyond the edge. To transform - trans-form.

Our relationship was such that Trevor wanted to hand the project over to me, so that I in turn became a conduit for the project. Conversations continued with Belman in the states whose connection was such that he was excited to build upon his previous work. I wanted the experience to be a more holistic and total experience so I approached Jamie Mills, knowing that he would respond, in the deepest sense, and energies began to flow. As the project began to take shape, with great shock and sadness Roger Belman at the age of 56 was diagnosed with cancer and passed away shortly after in October 2017. In addition Trevor’s health began to deteriorate and he passed away just weeks later. The pertinence of their departure added a huge weight of epitaphic responsibility to the exhibition, but also a poetic depth and resonance leaving clear and weighty understanding of how energy and spirit can remain and transcend all confines. Sarah Fairhall and Lois Taylor took choreographic reigns for the exhibition and we followed the flow. The resultant exhibition and related performances are a celebration of spirit, liminality and transformation.

I’m so proud to be a part of this most fitting of tributes.



Trevor Bell: ‘Trans-Form’, Monday 16 April-Saturday 26 May at Peninsula Arts, in association with The Box, Plymouth.

The exhibition has been conceived and curated by Joseph Clarke, with a sound score by Jamie Mills, performance by Sarah Fairhall and Lois Taylor and video by Alban Roinard and Cameron Clarke.