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