Trevor Bell

Folded Strata


In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Trevor Bell 1930–2017
Acrylic paint and charcoal on paper
Support: 787 × 984 mm
Presented by the artist 2011


Folded Strata 1991 is one of eight abstract works on paper in Tate’s collection that were created by the English artist Trevor Bell between 1988 and 2007 (Tate T13397–8, T13400–5). A two-part shape outlined in charcoal occupies most of the composition, the left half of which is further delineated by thicker, but more lightly applied lines of charcoal that appear concentrically within the form. These concentric lines further enclose areas of thickly painted grey and black. The inside of the right half of the shape is mostly white, with a central area painted a very light grey, below which are thin charcoal lines leading into the white from the left-hand side. The background is white on the right-hand side, and light brown on the left, where a narrow area of white separates it from the charcoal shape.

While representative of Bell’s practice throughout his career, the monochromatic or near-monochromatic works in this group resonate with early paintings such as Forces 1962 (Tate T13393) and Calshot 1970 (Tate T13396). All of them reflect his response to places and landscapes, and to specific found objects. Evident is his concern with particular formal devices: two forms in close proximity and tension, as seen in Beached 2007 (Tate T13405); or the extension of the space of the flat image achieved by piercing the paper of Looking 1997 (Tate T13403) and Centre 1997 (Tate T13404).

Places which have had an impact on Bell’s painting include India, the Himalayas, Burma and Slovenia, as well as the landscapes of Cornwall and Yorkshire. For instance, Centre is one of a group of paintings and works on paper produced in Piran, Slovenia, while Bell was there on a residency at the Keleia Foundation; and Dust Image of November 1988 (Tate T13397), Place of April 1989 (Tate T13400) and Erosion with a Corner of 1989 (Tate T13398) originated in experiences in southern Asia. Between 1984 and 1995, Bell made several treks through the Himalayas where the rugged terrain, simple Hindu temples, intense colours and soft light all had an impact on his work. The sources that he found inspiring in such locations could be topographical or cultural: a view of a valley, rock formations, the effects of light and atmosphere, or a particular object in a museum. Nevertheless, his works remain non-representational, being prompted by, rather than descriptive of, such sources. In this way, this particular strand of his practice can be related to that of British painters such as Basil Beattie (born 1935) and Prunella Clough (1919–1999).

Trevor Bell was a member of the third generation of artists who gathered in St Ives, Cornwall in the second half of the 1950s, producing non-representational paintings inspired by the landscape. After moving to Florida in the early 1970s, he developed a form of abstract painting inspired by external sources in response to the tropical climate and his experience of observing space launches. While working in Florida, and after returning to live in Britain in 1997, Bell continued to develop his work in both large, shaped canvases and a sequence of works on paper, largely detached from the artistic mainstream.

Further reading
Allys Palladino-Craig (ed.), Trevor Bell: A British Painter in America, Tallahassee 2003.
Elizabeth Knowles (ed.), Trevor Bell, Bristol 2009.

Chris Stephens
March 2011
Arthur Goodwin
October 2018

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