Trevor Bell

Tall Seven


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Not on display

Trevor Bell 1930–2017
Acrylic paint on canvas
Support, each: 3336 × 443 × 49 mm
Presented by the artist 2011


Tall Seven 1975 is a large painting in acrylic paint on seven separate vertically shaped canvases which are installed in a row along the wall. It belongs to a body of work made by Trevor Bell in the mid- to late 1970s which consisted of multiple canvases and responded to the Florida environment in which he was then working. Having made art inspired by the stark landscapes of west Cornwall in the late 1950s and the Yorkshire Dales in the 1960s (see, for example, Forces 1962, Tate T13393), Bell responded powerfully to what he described as the ‘heatscape’ of Florida after his first year there as a visiting professor at Florida State University, Tallahassee.

The intense colours and soft-edged areas of paint in Tall Seven can be seen to evoke the shimmering effect of Florida’s heat haze. However, together with the vertical movement of the tapering canvases, the colours were also informed by Bell’s witnessing the launch of the Apollo 17 space rocket from Cape Canaveral in December 1972. He recalled the aftermath of the launch:

All those exhaust fumes and all that fire has to go somewhere … it goes into concrete bunkers, travels back, and then it stood there like pillars of fire, standing there and gradually diminishing … while the rocket was heading away. Then suddenly the sound waves hit us. It was totally orgiastic.
(Quoted in Knowles 2009, p.37.)

The title, however, asserts the formal qualities of the serial canvases. Although this work was made later, Bell’s earliest artistic responses to Florida and his Cape Canaveral experience were presented in his show at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London in 1973. The exhibition generated positive reviews and several commissions.

Bell had started making shaped canvases in the mid-1960s, along with such contemporaries as the American Frank Stella (born 1936), with whose work his paintings were favourably compared by the British painter and critic Patrick Heron (1920–1999). The shaped formats often reinforced the evocative function of the imagery, as well as extending the formal ambitions of Bell’s compositions. Here the repeated tapering form of each canvas combines with the tonal gradation of the pigment to exaggerate the sense of upward movement. The relatively simple shaping of the canvases (compared with, for example, those used in Calshot 1970, Tate T13396) anticipated a period, in the late 1970s, in which Bell reverted to the orthodoxy of the oblong support.

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

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