The commanding use of colors draws the eye in. The fascinating inclusion of abstract expressionism, color field painting, new expressionism, and contemporary configuration captures your attention. Even if one doesn’t know much about art, there is still an appreciation of Leslie Bell’s award winning piece, “Little Guilders.”
The 35th Annual Rock Island Fine Arts Exhibition, currently being held at Augustana College through May 1, includes artists who live within 150 miles of the Quad Cities. This year the show was juried by Dan Mills, an artist and the director of the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine.
“Little Guilders,” the best-in-show winner, is an oil-on-canvas that Bell has been working on periodically since 2007, even being showcased at galleries at times.
“I was alluding to the traditional guild system where a young artist would study with a master artist,” Bell said. “Here are these two girls, clearly young people, and then here is this mature woman who they are undressing because she is their model and they are the little artists who are learning how to paint the figure.”
This isn’t the first time that Bell has interpreted the relationships between girls and women. Bell had a show called “World without men,” which took a look at women and girls without the negative influence of men.
“I’ve been dealing with relationships among girls and women and how they learn from each other and support each other,” Bell said.
For this award-winning piece, Bell purposely didn’t adopt one style, bringing in multiple styles because it allowed him to elaborate on the characters that are in the piece. This style takes their insides and spreads them out, allowing the audience to get a stronger emotional read on who they are or how they might behave or think.
After painting abstractly for 10 years, Bell finds that his mature style enables him to control all these different styles together and pull something coherent out of it.
“I purposely, deliberately, snuck up on [this style],” Bell said. “I had been painting a slightly more realistic fashion and I loosened up and the brush work became much more active.”
As a lifetime member of the Ambrose community, Bell attended undergraduate school at Ambrose in 1965 and was strongly influenced by Father Catich, who was the founder and chair of the art department. While being a professor here, his works teach as well. He doesn’t often show his students his work, but is conscience of communicating certain things clearly, sometimes even purposely vague to teach as well.
Even his students can attest to this claim. Munir Sayegh, one of the many art students to pass through Bell’s classes, appreciates what he has learned from him.
“He has influenced how I look at art and the concept of being an artist,” Sayegh said.
It’s students like Sayegh that give Bell the motivation to keep making art.
“I think my best audience, sometimes, is my students,” Bell said. “They’re hungry to learn, they’re curious, patient, and observant.”