Trevor Bell’s (1930 –2017) career as a ground-breaking proponent of abstract painting began here in West Cornwall, amid the intellectual landscape of mid-century British art. Bell was born in Leeds in 1930. He gained a scholarship to Leeds College of Art, graduating in 1952, and in 1955 he was persuaded by artist Terry Frost, who was then a Fellow of Leeds University, to move to St Ives in order to further develop his work. St Ives was, at that time, the epicentre of Avant Garde painting. Here, Bell found his true artistic direction, exploring an expressive style of painting related to American Abstract Expressionism and the gestural painting of mid-1950s European art. All the work Bell produced thereafter can be traced back to his first experiments with abstraction in St Ives: non-figuration, emotive colour and the flatness of the picture plane became the key elements of his work.
Trevor Bell spent the next six decades exploring the formal properties of painting. In 1959 he was awarded the Paris Biennale International Painting Prize. He then left Cornwall for a painting scholarship in Italy before becoming, like Frost, a Fellow of Leeds University. In Yorkshire, he became one of the first artists in Britain to work on shaped canvasses - often curved squares and skewed geometric shapes. It was during the 1960s that Bell’s work was first purchased for the Tate collection, and in the mid-1970s he moved to America, where he became Professor for Master Painting at Florida State University. Here, and for the next two decades, he developed the vivid, large-scale paintings which have defined his career. He also travelled frequently, in particular to northern India on the border with Tibet, attracted by the Buddhist monasteries that became a source of inspiration for some of his most important works.
In 1985 his paintings were included in Tate London’s ‘St Ives 1939-64’ exhibition, and in 1993 his work formed part of the Tate St Ives inaugural show. In 1996 Bell returned to West Cornwall. He was given a major solo exhibition at Tate St Ives in 2004, and in 2011 a further fourteen works were purchased for the Tate Gallery collection. He died in Cornwall in 2017, aged 87.