Art Review

Expressionist Stanley Bell Flirts With Excess at Michael Warren Contemporary

Stanley Bell, “Road Before the Journey," mixed materials.
Stanley Bell, “Road Before the Journey," mixed materials. Courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary
The eye-popping single-artist show From the Ground Up: New Work by Stanley Bell fills the front gallery at Michael Warren Contemporary. The overall effect of Bell's paintings is something like a room-sized kaleidoscope of colors, bold marks and theatrical gestures. It was with some amusement that I learned from gallery director Mike McClung that Bell says this latest body of work represents his idea of aesthetic restraint. But I do understand what he means. These paintings have no found toys or other material attached to them, like some of his earlier works; the new pieces are essentially flat — or at least as flat as mixed-media pieces with collage can be. But in terms of their compositions and palettes, there is no doubt: They are utterly unrestrained.

Bell lives in Carbondale, near Aspen, an idyllic mountain town, yet his work has a gritty urban edge to it perhaps reflecting his childhood in Dallas. Bell nods toward graffiti tagging here and there in the paintings, with outlined forms evocative of writing surrounded by more classic, abstract organic shapes. Then there’s his use of found imagery, comic book or magazine fragments that he’s inserted and partly painted over. Some of these images remain recognizable: Women, hands and skeletons are among the most prominent features of many of his paintings.

Bell is expressionistic. He splashes, drips, smears and pours his paints, covering his canvases with automatic markings, including arcs and dashes. In limited areas, on some of the panels, he employs mediums infused with metallics: shiny silver or glittery gold. Did I mention polka dots?

click to enlarge Installation view of From the Ground Up: New Work by Stanley Bell. - PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY MICHAEL WARREN CONTEMPORARY
Installation view of From the Ground Up: New Work by Stanley Bell.
Photo credit: Courtesy Michael Warren Contemporary
Bell’s instinct for building a successful composition apparently never fails him. And though he risks pushing his outrageous paintings too far, he never does, despite that particular hazard constantly looming in his more-is-more approach.

On Saturday, January 7, at 11 a.m., Bell will talk about the intentions behind his paintings. The Bell exhibit runs through January 21 at Michael Warren Contemporary, located at 760 Santa Fe Drive. Call 303-635-6255 for hours.

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Michael Paglia is an art historian and writer whose columns have appeared in Westword since 1995; his essays on the visual arts have also been published in national periodicals including Art News, Architecture, Art Ltd., Modernism, Art & Auction and Sculpture Magazine. He taught art history at the University of Colorado Denver.
Contact: Michael Paglia