MIKE BELL, painter
story by Jeff Schwachter
photos by Bill Horin
South Jersey artist Mike Bell’s illustrative portrait style is inspired by pop-culture, science fiction, advertising art, as well as typography, blending elements of nostalgia and humor, along with vivid colors and a broad range of influences — including Japanese cartoons, classic monster figures, vintage toys, punk rock, carnivalesque imagery and retro signage. Bell, who currently works as a full-time artist, was born and raised at the Jersey shore and lives in Northfield, just outside of Atlantic City.
The juxtaposition of counter-culture imagery with modern-day influences are the basis for Bell’s pieces, which have been exhibited at dozens of galleries and art spaces across the country — in addition to galleries in Germany and Canada — and range from painted objects (such as bowling pins and surfboards) to canvases painted with images influenced by the icons of popular culture. Calling himself a “true lowbrow painter,” Bell’s art could better be described as pop-surrealism. “The works are narrative,” says Bell. “The images tell a story, mostly figurative, but really feature pop-culture icons as the main element.” The outcome inhabits a world where the weird is wonderful.
Bell’s acrylic-on-canvas paintings inspired his clever “Matches” works: black-and-white pencil drawings of an array of American icons — from Bob Dylan and the Rat Pack to Edward Scissorhands and the late Bob Ross — hand-drawn on a pack of matches. Bell’s “Matches” are inventive not only for the utilization of the backs of match-pack covers for canvases, but also for Bell’s incorporation of the matches themselves — for a variety of hand gestures, street signs, and even a broken door (ala “Heere’s Johnny!”) — in the pieces. About 40 of Bell’s matchbooks are currently touring the Ripley’s Believe it or Not! museums across the world. His artwork is featured and for sale on his Website belldogstudio.com.