DIRK BELL, KATE DAVIS, ALAN MICHAEL:THE CHANGING ROOM
Sept, 2007, by Sarah Lowndes, Frieze Magazine
Intoxication can also be traced in the work of Berlin-based artist Dirk Bell. Bell renders his sepia-toned drawings and paintings at speed, as if to grasp a train of fleeting associations. Certainly there is something beyond the reach of the known world in these four recent works on paper: romantic dream images of a girl with medusa-like hair, a girl who sleeps in an oversized umbrella. Perhaps his least symbolically loaded work depicts a man and woman embracing in bed, but this in itself recalls John Donneâ€™s poem from 1633 â€˜The Sun Risingâ€™ - and the bed that becomes the centre of the world. It is a moment of poetry, and very romantic poetry, extracted from the parade of fashions we sometimes call history.
NIGHT FOR DAY: DIRK BELL
January 2004, by Jennifer Higgie, Frieze Magazine
In Dirk Bell's paintings and drawings, night's dissolution is privileged over the dull clarity of day. Confused mythologies, sleep and, by association, dreaming are evoked by the soporific delicacy of his pencil, in tired layers of paint and in allusions to the ambiguous elation of altered states.
Despite these Romantic preoccupations, however, the artist approaches the visual non sequitur with the energy of a snapshot. A delicate drawing might be shown alongside found paintings he has crudely reworked, or photographs preoccupied with an airy take on dislocation. His approach can be claustrophobic, even deathly; abstracted with self-absorption or erupting without warning into a sensuality that crackles with hallucinogenic high spirits. Yet despite his indebtedness to fin-de-siÃ©cle Symbolism (his pictures appear haunted by Odilon Redon and Jean Delville, in particular), Bell's unabashed lyricism - concerned with rapidly shifting contexts, disintegration and visual saturation - is as 21st-century as channel-surfing.
To mark the occasion of his solo show, BQ gallery in Cologne recently published Bell's Volume One (2003), a small, unbound picture book. The images reproduced include a drawing of a shadowy bunch of flowers; a photograph of an unrecognizable swath of flesh; the soft, filtered light of a messy bedroom; a hand emerging from gloom holding a flame; and a photograph of children gazing at a stain on the footpath. The pages are loose and non-hierarchical - without any overt logic, seemingly unconnected pictures can be shuffled and rearranged to create fresh associations. Aside from Bell's occasional infatuation with the abstract possibilities of the physical world, his approach is resolutely figurative. Yet although narratives are implied, conclusions are not. Apart from the title on the cover, the only words to be found in Volume One appear in a photograph of a girl who is eating an apple: she wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the inscription "insanity is not a defence". Words, Bell seems to suggest, are something from which it is occasionally necessary to retreat. The surfaces and patterns of the world - the ones the artist either creates or observes - speak volumes. In this sense his pictures feel like a celebration of sensuality over reason.