It was an exceptional Grand opening of the Utah Alliance Art on Jan 4th in Salt Lake Downtown. A day earlier Fox 13 recorded the exhibit and promoted the new galleries in the Main Street, which have been on our website since September 2007.
At the beginning I was so impressed from the crowd that even could not see the art. The people there looked to me so different from the usual public that attend the receptions in Main Street every first Friday of the month. Different from the others and similar as a society. At the beginning I thought they came for the Grand Opening of the music studio, but later I learned they are all friends of the graphic artist John Bell, who opened a solo exhibit in the Utah Alliance Art gallery. He is forty, while a skull is printed on his T-shirt as a part of his art work and obviously his personality. A young lady from this crowd told me she does not like Internet and her clothes were layered in really original way. The hair – red. And even one baby and two young boys at age abt 6-8 attended the reception. Both boys told me they loved drawing and spent much time for art. This night they came with their parents for John Bell’s art reception.
It is time to introduce him. He is one half Transylvanian and one half Italian. His grandparents migrated to the USA and later his parents met in Ohio. But John has been living for abt 15 years in Salt Lake where his wife, Mary, comes from.
Recently John has begun to travel to Europe. He even told me that liked Europe better that USA. I think this is just the impressive effect of the places that we visit beyond our everydayness.
L. Nikolova: John, I decided to know you personally at the reception because Vanina Harkova, my student, mentioned quality when I asked her what she liked in your exhibit. This is not the art that can touch my heart and I was also so impressed by the crowd, so it was even hard for me to focus on your art works. I thought I was in New York. And I heard some interesting things first from your wife, Mary, and later from you. Let me continue our conversation. How do you feel in Utah comparing with Ohio and the other places that you had lived? You can connect your answer with the problem of enculturation. In cultural anthropology we use this term that conceptualizes the integration of the individual into the society including education and different types of social grouping. We believe enculturation is a life-long process and we all depend on it, respectively on art as one of the most formative cultural components of our human creative and communicative personality.
J. Bell: Well, as far as adapting to a culture, I’ve remained a bit of a fringe dweller here in Utah. In other places I’ve lived (Cleveland, New York, Pittsburgh, Breckenridge Co., Mendocino, CA ) I found that I almost immediately fell into the rhythm of them, the towns & with the people. Here it’s been much slower. I had no problem adapting to the outdoor lifestyle which is a big part of the culture, but for most part I still feel very much like an outsider here. In some ways, I feel we (myself & the people I have become close with) have created our own culture. There is an solid artists community here that is growing stronger every year. Over the years I have felt more a part of that, & that I am helping to strengthen & grow it.
L. Nikolova: And now about your art. My brother is a graphic artist. In other words graphics are a kind of my everydayness. What I know about this art is that it is an extremely hard work. And of course, highly technical. You told me that you were just born an artist. But why graphic design? How do you feel the world through your art?
J. Bell: The disciplines of graphic design are invaluable tools for me as a painter. Creating identity & image though the use of shape, color, composition, negative space, etc... Photography is very much the same for me. They both inform my paintings on many levels, always bringing a fresh perspective to the work. They are all about communication. How do I feel the world through my art? Simply put, like a mirror. I’m just trying to translate what I see & feel into my art in a way that resonates with others.
L. Nikolova: Let me talk a little bit about Europe. You showed me Paris on your pictures. What about the life and people in Europe? What makes them different from Americans? Did you find life-long friends there?
J. Bell: A few friends, we’ll see about the life-long part. What appealed to me most about people in Europe was how easy & open they are with you (a complete stranger). I found myself in long, in-depth conversations with so many of the people I encountered. This may have a bit to do with your own state of mind while traveling, but that easy attitude seems to be the rule there, not the exception.
L. Nikolova: You told me that would love to come to Bulgaria. And now you know where it is. I am sure you will love our artists in Karlovo. Do you think the people in Bulgaria will understand your message through your art? Or probably we need to help them – what would you like to tell the people through your art?
J. Bell: I don’t think anyone will have a problem understanding my art at all. I try to convey a wide range of human emotions in as modern a way as possible. I see them as emotional touchstones & mirrors of the times we live in. I can share my inspirations & influences with people to help them understand me a bit better as an artist. But as far as meaning or a message goes, I believe that comes with time. A work of art has to live in the world for a while before the meaning becomes clear. Many people (hopefully) will see it, talk about it, & maybe even write about it. Some where in that time line meaning gets attached. If I could hope for one thing that people might get from my paintings, it would be to remind them of the possibilities of the human spirit & the power of creative thinking. L. Nikolova: I am sure your numerous fans would love to know more about your everydayness? What inspires you more for your art - your everydayness or everything that happens beyond it? You even have a company for T-shirts prints. It is not very usual one artist the cover such a huge scale of imaginary – from T-shirt prints to large scale art works? Approaching the psychology of art, do you think the huge art work makes you free from the accumulated cultural energy of your imaginary? Or probably you have a specific motivation for your large scale graphic design?
J. Bell: Everything inspires me. I am hardwired to the creative process. Things I see, hear, & read can all start a fire. I take photographs almost every day. If I’m not in the studio working, I’m doing graphic design or filling notebooks with thoughts & ideas. It almost never stops, even in sleep I sometimes dream the solutions to a design problem or have images of paintings come to me. I can’t even walk into a room, any room, without accessing it’s spatial qualities, or the light, how it hits me & then re-working the entire space in my mind.
Art is the arena in which I learn. The questioning nature of it helps me to see & understand life in more philosophical & spiritual terms. It is a space in which I fail & succeed, re-evaluate & grow to understand myself, the world, & the people in it. Most importantly, it keeps me in a constant state of becoming.
L. Nikolova: What is artcotic.com? I saw your name as a newly added artist? Do your art works belong to a certain style of art?
J. Bell: ARTCOTIC.com is new venture I started with business partners Rob Worthington & Alex Lodemeier. It is an online artists community & retail shop that specializes in high end limited edition artists apparel. It is a collaborative site as well where we invite artist to submit work to us each month in different themes. Chosen artists get paid, they also get an artist profile page on our site, recognition & promotion online & in national advertising. We have a lot of big name artists involved like Frank Kozak, Liz Magrath, Superkitch & Koralie. Breaking bands like Pinback & White Rabbits, Director David Slade, as well as very talented but lesser known artists that we are helping to build a reputation.
As far as my artwork goes, I feel I have several very distinct styles. They all run deep (meaning I have been developing them for many years). On the surface they may appear quite different, but I find that they not only inform one another, but as time passes their paths seem to cross more & more. I have always draw from many different movements in art. From abstract expressionism, color field painting, geometric abstraction, pop art, etc… as well as from the philosophies behind modern architecture & sculpture. I’ve never been interested in choosing just one style & working within set ideas, that would be to limiting. What I have been working towards all these years is creating a movement & style that is my own.
L. Nikolova: Ethnically we are from close regions. You may not believe but I am sure that your Romanian and Italian blood contributes a lot you to be so liked. How do you feel – the people like you because of your art or they like your art because of your personality?
J. Bell: Well, the art certainly draws people in, but in the end I feel it helps if they like you as a person. No one is going to invite you or your work into their lives or into homes if you’re an asshole.
L. Nikolova: It seems hard to live from art in the USA. Tell me something about the people who buy your art. I am sure many or most just want to see your art work everyday at home. But probably there are some who invest in your art. And here is the tricky moment – if the prices of your art work go up, you will have more clients who would invest in your art. I saw at this exhibit the price $350.00 for your small prints and $1800.00 for the bigger ones. When you began, what was the price of your art works? What would do with the money if you sell some graphics for instance for a million?
J. Bell: Investing in art is always a tricky proposition. Personally, I feel you should buy art because you connect with it. You’re going to be living with it for a long time so you want something that your emotionally invested in, that you can live with & enjoy for years to come.
The price of my work has gone up considerably in the past several years. The paintings that were going for $1500 to $2500 four years ago, now go for between $3000 & up to $10,000, with the large scale works recently selling for as much as $25,000. The show you came to, “The Sound & The Fury” was a deliberate attempt to broaden my audience. I’ve been lucky enough to have a fare amount of people locally who have followed my work, but have ask if I would be doing anything more affordable. So that show (which was all limited edition prints) was a response to that request. As far as what I’d do if my work sold in the million dollar range… well, I don’t think it’s healthy to think about that to much. If it did, I can tell you that I’d buy a lot of art from artists I admire.
L. Nikolova: John, I understand the art is your life. However, there is something beyond the art? Do you have some secret whose door you can open, perhaps to free space for other secrets? J. Bell: No, nothing I would consider a secret. I want a full & happy life. I want the people in my life to have that also. But art has always been the center of my life & want nothing more than to have my place in that world. To have relationships & dialog with all the people involved in it.
L. Nikolova: As my grateful acknowledgments for this interview. I thank you also for the invitation to visit your studio and really hope that soon we will continue our conversation there.
When I finished the interview, I visited the website of John Bell. It looks I was not wrong with my feeling that John Bell that Friday brought the New York spirit in Salt Lake Downtown because I read:
“John Bell’s work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including a solo exhibition & mural commission at Time Warner Center in New York City in 2005 and 2006. His work has also been featured in a cover story for Utah Style & Design. He has received acknowledgements & reviews in Artists of Utah 15 Bytes ezine publication, Salt Lake City Weekly, Catalyst, In Utah this week, Fox News, NY Art world, Artnet & Blackbook magazines. Bell is an award winning graphic designer & photographer. He received a degree in visual communication from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah (http://www.onemodernart.com)”
Lolita Nikolova, PhD International Institute of Anthropology 29 S State Street #206 Salt Lake City, Utah 84111 http://www.iianthropology.org
Key words: John Bell, graphic design, Salt Lake City, Utah Alliance Art, anthropology, Lolita Nikolova
Most recent event: Solo exhibit. Reception January 4, 2008. Utah Art Alliance 127 Main Street, Downtown, Salt Lake City, Utah January 2008
From his homepage: John Bell’s work has been featured in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including a solo exhibition & mural commission at Time Warner Center in New York City in 2005 and 2006. His work has also been featured in a cover story for Utah Style & Design. He has received acknowledgements & reviews in Artists of Utah 15 Bytes ezine publication, Salt Lake City Weekly, Catalyst, In Utah this week, NY Art world, Artnet and Blackbook magazines. Bell is an award winning graphic designer & photographer. He received a degree in visual communication from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. He currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah.