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In Memory of Trevor Bell

Published June 22, 2023


Article courtesy of Tallahassee Democrat | written by Mark Hinson

Published 3:03 p.m. ET Nov. 14, 2017 | Updated 6:34 p.m. ET Nov. 14, 2017

Farewell to Trevor Bell: The former FSU painter and professor died in England

The abstract artist Trevor Bell was an understated, droll and intellectual soul, but his art was large, colorful and bold. One of his contemporaries described his over-sized paintings as “light traps.”

“I rather liked that,” Bell said in 2003 when his exhibition titled “Trevor Bell: A British Painter in America” opened at the Florida State University Museum of Fine Arts.

Bell, who taught art at Florida State from 1972 to 1996 and has works in many public Tallahassee venues such as the Tucker Civic Center, died earlier this month at his home in Cornwall, England. He was 87. He is survived by his wife and fellow artist, Harriet Bell, and two sons, Gregory and Sion.

The FSU Museum of Fine Arts is holding a tribute to Bell from 2:30 to 4 p.m. on Sunday during a closing reception for the ongoing “Bell & Belman” exhibition.

“You were a great influence on many, many painters, myself included, sir,” graphic designer, painter and former Bell student James David Lōser said on Facebook.

Lōser also added via email: “He was a very giving and profound teacher. As a painter, he was capable of distilling nature’s physical and metaphysical complexity with a graceful simplicity. He developed a way of painting based on his experience of landscape and the sea in Florida and in his native England. In his art, as in his life, he was incredibly focused and uncompromising. He made an indelible mark on how I approach painting and design.”

After graduating from Leeds Art College in 1952, Bell became a member of what became known as the St. Ives School. It was a group of British artists that included Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Peter Lanyon.

In 1958, Bell’s career took off with a critically lauded one-man show in London. Soon he won the Paris Biennale International Painting Prize and the Italian Government Scholarship. When Bell taught art in England during the late ’60s, future Roxy Music member and album producer Brian Eno was one of his students.

In 1970, Bell was heralded “one of the most important painters working today” in a glowing review printed in Studio International. In a move that surprised the English art world, Bell packed up his brushes and left his British homeland for the teaching job at FSU.

“I don’t think the English critics forgave him at the time,” Tallahassee art consultant Marsha Orr said.

“When I came here, I got really quite romantic,” Bell told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2003. “I wrote to someone saying all these kids running around stripped off and bronzed were like the children of the sun coming out to play. I was quite carried away.”

The Florida sun and climate also began to influence his work.

“I opened up and began using intense colors that I’d never used before,” Bell said. “I called the paintings heatscapes.” He became fascinated with what he called the “pulsating of light.”

While in Tallahassee, Bell worked out of an industrial-sized warehouse off Tharpe Street in West Tallahassee that looked more like a mechanics garage. The studio was dotted with Bell’s hand-written Post-It notes. They said things like:

“Don’t look at ONE form only. Always look at what it relates to and what its role is.”


“Look at interaction, not balance.”

Even though Bell began fashioning his canvases beyond the traditional shapes as far back as the early ’60s, he focused his attention on massive, curving canvases called “rockers” in the ’80s.

“It’s a bit like the stern of the fishing boats I used to see along the coast in the south of France,” Bell said. “It’s like seeing an old friend again.”

By the early ’90s, Bell’s work was drawing inspiration from Cornwall’s jagged coastline and rocky cliffs. It was almost as if the art was calling him home.

In 2007, the Tate St. Ives held a retrospective of Bell’s work collected from five decades.

The Guardian newspaper had this to say about Bell’s work: “Paintings expressing the shifting light and surging gales of Cornwall and the vertiginous scale of the Himalayas sat alongside quiet, light-filled canvases. The exhibition gave a vivid sense of Bell’s restless energy, indicated the sheer physical achievement of making such vast and complex objects, and also gave an insight into his constant search for a still center.”

Contact Mark Hinson at