Like many artists of his generation working in California, Larry Bell is fascinated by the subtle perceptual effects of light and color. He studied at the Chouinard Art Institute, Los Angeles, with Robert Irwin, a pioneer and philosopher among the “light and space” group of artists based in the beach town of Venice, California. Initially a painter, Bell became fascinated with the possibilities of working with glass, a common and “emotionally and narratively invisible” material, when he was working at a picture-framing shop. He says, “the edges of the stuff fascinated me, and the way it simultaneously reflected and transmitted light.” Bell soon abandoned traditional painting to create constructions of mirrored and transparent glass in which the viewer’s reflection as well as the ambient space became part of the artwork.
Bell first made his signature glass cubes in the mid 1960s, by plating the surfaces with a mist of various types of metallic and mineral particles to create delicate, evanescent veils of color. He applied sophisticated vaporized, vacuum-chamber techniques to art-making. The results are minimal and seeming weightless, with barely perceptible gradations of color and reflexivity.
Bell chose the cube due to the ubiquity of right angles in our daily environments. He became most interested in the way light graduated out of the corners of the cube (which he typically joined with shiny, plated edges) and decided to make “just the corners.” By the late 1960s, he abandoned his monolithic cubes to experiment with room-sized installations through which viewers could move, although he returned to the cubes later in his career.
Although Bell often used neutral gray glass, with neutral gradient coatings of nickel or chrome, he also experimented with color by using quartz particles that created an emanating bluish cast as they “interfered with the wavelengths close the ultraviolet are of the visible spectrum,” he said. His scientific knowledge of various materials is prodigious and his processes are often technically difficult, a challenge he considered “great fun.”
And a fun trivia note: Larry Bell is part of the crowd pictured on the cover art for the Beatles’ album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.