Changing Rhythms - Works by Leland Bell, 1950s-1991

An exhibition of paintings by Leland Bell is on display in Haverford College's Cantor Fitzgerald Gallery from October 1 to 28.

The exhibit represents close to four decades of the artist's work. Other works by Leland Bell are concurrently on view in the List Gallery at Swarthmore College.

Although Bell began painting in the 1940s, his art did not receive a great deal of attention until after his death from cancer in 1991 at the age of 69. Andrea Packard, the List Gallery director, writes in the introduction to the catalog exhibit that Bell pursued an idiosyncratic reinterpretation of Western painting instead of mainstream recognition. According to Packard, the artist was devoted to process rather than product and continually chose to rework and refine his paintings rather than to pursue commercial successes.

"Bell painted abstractly in the early 1940s before artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning did. By the 1950s, when abstraction became fashionable, he had returned to figurative painting. During a time when artists were celebrated for breaking with tradition and when many painters were cultivating what they perceived as a uniquely American aesthetic, Bell embraced French modernism," writes Packard.

Packard notes that throughout Bells' career, he focused on three traditional subjects: still life, portraiture, and figure composition. He chose to paint the people and things around him that he loved most, especially his wife and daughter. For nine years, the three artists (father, mother, and daughter) lived and painted together in their New York brownstone, each with their own floor as a studio. The closeness of their family unit is clearly reflected in Bell's series of family groups. Grouped together, these works reveal Bell's remarkable focus and intelligence as he revised and refined his compositions over four decades.

Besides being devoted to his own art, Bell was a popular lecturer and consummate teacher. A founding member of the New York Studio School faculty in 1964, Bell later went on to teach for 13 years in the graduate painting program at the Parsons School of Design. He also taught at Yale University, the Kansas City Art Institute and Indiana University. As a teacher, Bell persistently took unpopular stands, debunking conventional heroes and extolling the merits of others who were overlooked or out of favor.

Bell taught what he knew best: to reject academic training and to learn instead through studying artworks in galleries and museums, through building relationships with mentors and through rigorous revision. Articulate, idiosyncratic and ardently committed to art, Bell influenced peers such as Nell Blaine and R.B. Kitaj; he inspired critics such as John Ashbery, John Hollander and Jed Perl; and he powerfully affected a younger generation of artists, many of whom became his close friends.

Bell's works have been exhibited in various galleries in New York including the Robert Schoelkopf Gallery and the Zabriskie Gallery. His works have also appeared in The Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. He has participated in a variety of group exhibitions including shows at Bard College, the Reynolds Gallery in Richmond, Va., and at Stoppenbach and Delestre, Ltd. in London, England.