March’s Featured Friend – Harry Bell

Harry Bell by his work in the Friends Summer Exhibition 2019

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your passion for art:
I was born in 1947 and brought up in Gateshead, where I still live.

I’ve always drawn since the time I walked off with an assistant’s pencil stub from the Co-op when I was four and my Dad showed me how to draw cartoon spiders. My route to painting, however, was circuitous, involving several years detour into cartooning for the world of science fiction fanzines (I was Fan Guest of Honour at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1979).

In 1989 I began seriously to paint and, taking early retirement from the Civil Service in 1997, I began a BA (Hons) Fine Art course at Newcastle University, graduating in 2001. I’ve been a professional painter since then.

Can you tell us more about the artwork featured on the title page?
The paintings in the photograph are part of an occasional series based on found still life subjects. I love the careful, but often random arrangements of shoes, hats, bags and other holiday items set out in front of shops and stalls abroad. Given the chance, I like to draw them in my sketchbook (I’ve drawn an awful lot of rows of jars and cans in the Grainger Market) but usually this isn’t possible in the hot sun and busy streets where I find the stalls, so I rely on the photographs I have taken.

At home, I edit the photographs until I’m happy with the composition and even then, the painting itself will determine how closely I follow the original [photographic] source.

Are there any events/exhibitions upcoming that you’re particularly excited about?
I wish I could say so, but at the moment, apart from one or two regular club shows, I have no exhibitions lined up. I’m always on the lookout for opportunities but haven’t been very proactive in this respect in recent years.

Must do better!

What are you currently working on/planning to work on?
I’ve always been fascinated by the effects of time on surfaces, and a few months ago I began painting a series of paintings based on old doors I’ve photographed round the Mediterranean over the years.

I love the distressed paint work, rusted locks and handles of these doors, and using collage and acrylic gels has allowed me to work with the textures and relatively abstract compositions of the subject. From doors, I’ve moved on to walls with torn posters and broken brickwork and most recently, some parcels wrapped in crumpled brown paper.

Unwrapping John Piper by Harry BellUnwrapping John Piper – Mixed media on board, 30×30 cm

Who is your favourite artist and/or what is your favourite art movement?
I wrote my Dissertation on Graham Sutherland and his Pembrokeshire Landscapes and I’ve always loved the Neo-Romantic painters from Paul Nash to John Piper, John Minton, John Craxton and Keith Vaughan.

Someone once said that the ghost of Edward Hopper was sit ting on my shoulder because of my urban landscapes, and I have to say that I’ve never found him a heavy burden. But also across the Atlantic is Wayne Thiebaud, probably the greatest realist painter in the US. At 100 years of age, it’s astonishing that he’s never had a major exhibition in this country. I owe my interest in rows of hats and bags to his series of paintings of pies and cakes.

When did you become a Friend of the Hatton Gallery and why?
I was a Friend for quite some years in the late 80s and early 90s, but lapsed, probably ironically when I went to University. I always found the social events, workshops, weekends away at Ford Castle and the opportunity to show my work in the main galleries (despite the dreadful lighting!) great fun.

I’ve yet to recapture that feeling since I rejoined [two? three?] years ago, mainly because of pressure on my available time.

What is your favourite part of being a Friend of the Hatton Gallery?
Because, as I’ve said, I have limited time available, I’ve not been able to take part in many of FoTH’s events, but I do still enjoy the opportunity to show work, even in the limited space now granted to us, and the chance to meet other members at the preview.

You can see more of Stuart’s work on his website.

If you would like to  be our Featured Friend in a future issue , please email Tomke at FotHevents@gmail.com

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