Selected works by Dirk Bell

Dirk Bell
Abgrund (Abyss)


Mixed media on canvas, curtain, mirror pieces, bones, wood, paint, neon lamp, electric cable

204.7 x 174.5 x 14.4 cm
Dirk Bell’s intimate figurative drawings and paintings unveil a new way of depicting and perceiving sensuality, like an evanescent but still present memory. In works such as the delicate Rabbit’s Moon (2007), with its illusion of a watery craquelure all over its surface, and the darker, more violently rendered Wolf Hamlet Madonna Elmex (2006), the artist revisits traditional genres and compositions – the memento mori still life, the symbolic representation of the human figure – filtering and compressing art historical references with a contemporary sense of dismantlement and disintegration.
Dirk Bell
Rabbit's Moon


Mixed media on canvas

160 x 276 cm
Nowhere is Bell’s embracing call for a new kind of ungraspable but overpowering figurative sensuality proposed more clearly than in Abgrund (Abyss) (2008). A naked figure, painted in soft brushwork and installed under a neon light, is partly revealed by a half-drawn lace curtain. A ledge running along the bottom of the frame holds broken mirror shards and charred pieces of bone. A certain frustration hovers over the work. Abyss, Bell explains, ‘marks a point of no return… The mirror shards can be used to look into fragments of the future, whereas the past as well as memory are spread out before one’s eyes and can be looked at… The cindered bones are relics of a picnic at the roadside…The whole scenery can be veiled by the curtain.’
Dirk Bell
Wolf Hamlet Madonna Elmex


Mixed media on canvas

230 x 140 cm
The pictures within the frame of Rabbit’s Moon, depicting posing figures, illustrations in books, and other less easily identifiable shapes, are on the same illusory plane as the skull, glass of wine, bottle and ashtray next to which they stand, and contain the same visually hallucinogenic power.

In the limb-plagued Wolf Hamlet Madonna Elmex, two figures, one holding the other, are set against a background full of multiple marks suggesting motion. The exact meaning of the work is as impenetrable as similarly gestural prehistoric cave paintings.


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 Donne’s poem from 1633 ‘The Sun Rising’ - 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.


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-siécle 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.