Just In: Larry Bell

December 20, 2019

With early aspirations of working as a Disney animator, a young Larry Bell first pursued abstract oil painting at the Chouinard Art Institute. His work was largely informed by Abstract Expressionism until he began taking classes from artists such as Robert Irwin, who revealed to him an artistic process free from utilitarian constraints. Working with shaped canvases and mixed media, Bell soon stumbled upon what would become his career-long inquiry into the properties and conditions of light.

Following his “disciplined curiosity,” Bell moved his work into the third dimension, and in the mid-1960s he conceived of his iconic series of glass cube sculptures. With this series Bell began using vacuum coatings of metal and mineral films on panes of glass, which provided a reflective yet translucent alternative to the opaque mirrors that he had previously employed to construct his cubes.

In 1978, after perfecting this coating technique, Bell returned to the two-dimensional plan. He found that his vacuum coatings took much easier to paper than they had to glass and other industrial materials. This allowed Bell to work more quickly through each piece, and promoted the type of improvisation and spontaneity in which he has always delighted. By applying the vaporized metals to paper in various densities and chemical compositions, he could elicit a broad spectrum of light effects within a simple composition. The resulting “vapor drawings,” including PFBK #17 (1979), which will be featured in our February 16, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction, demonstrate a critical stage in the evolution of Bell’s visual vocabulary as he perfected his control over and understanding of, not only his materials, but the nature of light itself.

Tobin, Richard. Larry Bell: Hocus, Focus and 12. The Harwood Museum of Art, 2018.
“Vapor Drawing LDIF 4, Larry Bell, 1979.” Tate,
Dickie, Anna, and Stephanie Bailey. “Larry Bell Talks Spontaneous Improvisation.” Ocula, 9 Aug. 2017,


Larry Bell
PFBK #17
Aluminum and silicon monoxide on black Arches paper
Signed and dated in graphite lower center
Composition/sheet (vis.): 45.75″ x 37.125″; Frame: 47.375″ x 38.875″

Estimate: $15,000 – $20,000
February 16, 2020 Modern Art & Design Auction

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