Ellen Bell

Ellen Bell

Ellen Bell has studied a variety of disciplines including Illustration and Fine Art which have helped her to create beautiful conceptual works communicating complex messages about language, identity and relationships. She is currently studying for a practice-based PhD in the influence of arts practice on intimate communication within couples. Her research programme is based in the School of Art and Performance at Dartington College of Arts which is now part of the University College Falmouth.

Bell specialises in using found ephemera in her work gathered from everyday life – books, dictionaries, magazines, streetmaps, postage stamps from bygone eras. These materials, having been used and discarded by previous owners, have an appeal because of the associations and allusions created in the artists’ mind and which can then be transformed into a new artwork. These associations are often humorous, sometimes with a narrative and also possessing a serious undertone.

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A combination of text and stitch in her previous work led to the creation of beautiful miniature garments often relating to the period of history from which they came, for example, Body Language 2005, is a series of miniature corsets made from pages of an original edition of Samuel Johnson’s dictionary circa 1780, mounted and framed within a clear perspex museum case. As Bell’s ideas have developed over the years, she has become more interested in communicating ideas about language and in her new body of work explores language used in intimate and passionate encounters – the text now becoming her central focus.

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Works like Sleeping Dictionary, 2007 outlines the passage of a relationship from romance, love, courtship, marriage through to divorce – its list of adjectives from a 1944 edition of an English-French Dictionary forms a disquieting narrative of the missed beat between lovers and in addition hints at a bittersweet history between nations.

Ellen Bell creates her work with precision and a meticulous attention to detail. Although more commonly working on a small scale and with visually monochrome compositions, colour and texture is created in the mind by the profound effect the works have on one’s own individual thoughts, associations and experiences long after the work has been viewed.

Ellen Bell – Available Work

Please contact sonia@foursquarearts.co.uk for more information.

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Next Event

Camera Obscura and Other Stories

An offsite exhibition to be held at Gallery in Redchurch Street, London E2 24th - 29th May 2011

Opening Times: Tuesday 24th - Friday 27th May 11 - 7pm
Saturday 28th May 12 - 6pm
Sunday 29th May 12 - 4pm

Artists Talk in Gallery: Saturday 10.30 - 12pm (Please arrive promptly)
Conceptual Book Art Masterclass Saturday 28th May 2 – 5pm £50 (To be pre-booked)

Catalogue NOW AVAILABLE download PDF (5.9MB) here.

A film has been commissioned from artist-filmaker, Abigail Norris, entitled Writing intimacy.

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Solo Exhibitions

For available works in this exhibition click here

Camera Obscura and Other Stories

24th - 29th May 2011
An offsite exhibition to be held at Gallery in Redchurch Street, London E2

Camera obscura n. a darkened box or room with a lens or aperture for projecting the image of an external object on to a screen inside. (Latin. = dark chamber.) (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, 1995)

For her new collection of work Bell is responding to the literal meaning of Camera Obscura, that of the hidden or dark room and yet, her use of found photographs as templates for her drawings suggest something a little less tenuous. Bell works with a group of somehow familiar family images from which she selects figures and objects with which to tell her stories. The photographs are of children, clearly cajoled into standing stiffly before box brownies or Kodak throwaways, of adults at what must have been red-letter days for them, weddings, birthdays and family get togethers, and of mundane domestic objects. As with most of her work, Bell encourages us to make connections, to find relationships with these universal images of family, of home and of childhood.

However, the drawings of these events, these people, are obscured. Bell obfuscates and blurs the readings, faces become illegible, the sense of place is merely suggested at by a dotted reference to a garden, somewhere. She uses dark narratives to fill the templates – narratives that, as the title suggests are boxed in. This is a series of works about memory – memory that is fragmentary, unreliable - certainly not something that could claim to be truth, or indeed absolute, even within a family.

Photographs remain as testaments, as reminders of certain days, or important events and yet are often no more than staged tableaux – smiles are fixed, hands are held and faces stare ahead rigid with discomfort. It is the extraordinary within the ordinary that Bell is interested in communicating. The texts she chooses to work with offer clues but even they are ambiguous.

This collection also features a series of abstracted text pieces. They are conversations, ‘night murmurs’ Bell calls them, voices in the dark, repeated phrases that reveal a certain spoken banality that often follows deep feeling. Again, this universality – we have all been there – the over -used use of the word ‘love’, the terms of endearment, which from a distance appear hackneyed and yet are used with such fervour, such rapture at the time, in those dark, hidden rooms.

Hard Words
9th - 13th September 2008

Four Square Fine Arts is delighted to announce this forthcoming exhibition “Hard Words” by Ellen Bell to be held in the Lower Level of the Air Gallery, London W1. It constitutes the first commercial exhibition by Bell for several years and follows on from her much-acclaimed public art installation “Speaking Soul” held at the City Gallery in Leicester in February 2007.

Ellen Bell (born 1962) has produced a series of text ‘drawings’ that offer both alternative meanings and readings of a series of seemingly prosaic nouns, verbs and adjectives. These drawings, fastidiously formed to represent the formal page layouts of dictionaries, phrase books and thesauri (those traditional repositories of accepted linguistic definition), read as stream of consciousness lists peppered with archaic, long-lost phraseology heavy with alliteration. The raised words of these works literally animate the language as they jut off the page, casting rows of sharp, urgent, tick-like shadows.

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Through this series of work Bell is attempting to stretch the limitations of written language as a means of intimate and impassioned expression. Words such as ‘mother’, ‘daughter’, ‘son’, ‘wife’, ‘home’ and ‘family’ are offered up via a kind of serendipitous, scalpel-led, culling of selected tomes from which the found words are heavily redolent of the mind-sets and prejudices of the time. In works such as ‘Love (Pistol)’ and ‘Love (Bag)’ Bell uses templates of euphemistic objects to lend impact to the text. In other pieces, such as ‘Happy’’ a map is employed in the place of text, suggesting perhaps that in some cases words are not enough.

Ellen Bell will be giving a talk during the course of the exhibition.
For further information please email info@foursquarearts.co.uk
Exhibition Catalogue Download (PDF 3.64MB)

Timepiece, 2009

Ellen Bell completed Timepiece for a client in 2009. The client was already a big collector of Ellen’s work and understood the intellectual connections and references she made in her work. As a clockmaker, his brief was to create a text-based work about the subject of Time, incorporating a horological dictionary and magazines that he possessed from the early twentieth century. The clock shape was based on a favourite ”Empire“ clock from the nineteenth century that the client had restored. Ellen settled on this shape because of the way it would lend itself to a two-dimensional form. In conjunction with some of Ellen’s own found ephemera she was able to create an intelligent and humorous work tailor-made for its owner.

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Available Work – Camera Obscura & Other Stories

Please contact sonia@foursquarearts.co.uk for more information.