DEBORAH BELL

BIOGRAPHY

DEBORAH BELL
(b. 1957 Johannesburg, South Africa)

Deborah Bell is one of South Africa’s most celebrated contemporary artists. She works in a range of media on canvas and paper, produces dry point etchings and large-scale bronzes. Her earlier more political work has given way to a broader, deeper investigation into the border been mortality and immortality, matter and spirit, presence and absence, the quotidian and the mythic, the grounded and transcendent. In recent years she has developed an immediately recognisable visual language, her images simple, stark, symbolic – grounded, silent, still, poised. As Ricky Burnett has stated: at the very edge of time.

In her iconography she draws from a range of cultures (including African, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, early Christian and European) and a range of philosophies (especially the Buddhist preoccupation with stillness and the shedding of attachment and the ego) and psychologies (more Jung than Freud) – but her work digs deeper, arriving finally out of an internal and personal place that Bell occupies in the world as an artist, a woman and an explorer. A central task is to make the unknown present – apprehended in a series of powerful images that are both of her and beyond her. Bell’s earlier figures, characterised by entrapment (in the country, in the body), gave away to figures embodying the seeker – often accompanied by boats, horses, chariots. Images of lions, dogs, horses and angels recur. These are often intermediary figures between the physical world and a higher more spiritual realm. They are also aspects of herself – the powerful daemons that reside in all of us, which are often accompanied by solitary female figures, some full of assertive confidence, others more vulnerable and less sure of their agency.

Bell is interested in the half-formed image – the unwritten, as yet unformed spaces we move towards in our quest for self-knowledge. More recent work has also become more concerned with surrender – to the higher self, the mystery of the universe, the simplicity of the present. All her art, she has stated, works towards the Zen mark: the single gesture of absolute presence. Her quest is ongoing – and has left in its wake a series of hugely powerful, totemic images from what Yeats called Spiritus Mundi.    

Deborah Bell has worked with a great variety of media during her career and has collaborated on various historically important projects with contemporaries such as William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins. Bell received her BAFA (Hons) and MFA degrees at the University of Witwatersrand, and has been an artist working abroad and a lecturer at various South African tertiary institutions, including the University of the Witwatersrand. Bell lives and works from her studio in Magaliesburg, as well as being a collaborator at the David Krut studios on several projects. 

Bell’s work is represented in public and private collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Smithsonian Institute and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, the Hara Museum, Tokyo and the IZIKO South African National Gallery, Cape Town.

SOLO EXHIBITIONS

2020   
Sentinels, Everard Read, London, UK

2019
Enthroned, Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa

2018   
Invocations to the Plate, David Krut Projects, Johannesburg, South Africa

2017   
Uncovering Ancient Memory – 15 years of etching, David Krut Projects, Cape Town, South Africa
Recent Paintings and Sculpture, Everard Read, Franschhoek, South Africa

2016   
Dreams of Immortality: Blood and Gold, Everard Read, London, UK

2015   
Renunciation, David Krut, Johannesburg, South Africa 
Dreams of Immortality, Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa

2013   
What Would Wisdom Say to Your Dark Heart? Everard Read Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

2012   
A Far Country, John Martin Gallery, London and at the Glyndebourne Opera Festival, UK

2011   
Presence, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

2010   
Alchemy, David Krut, Johannesburg, South Africa

2009   
Flux, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
Collaborations, David Krut, Johannesburg, South Africa

2007   
Objects of Power: memory of metal, memory of wood, Goodman, Johannesburg, South Africa

2005-6
Crossings and Monuments, Oliewenhuis Museum, Bloemfontein, South Africa

2005   
Crossings and Monuments, Aardklop Festival Potchefstroom University Library Gallery, South Africa

2004   
Sentinels, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

2002   
Unearthed, Joao Ferreira Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa

2001   
Unearthed, Goodman, Johannesburg, South Africa

2000   
The Journey Home, Art First, London, UK

1998   
Displacements, Goodman, Johannesburg, South Africa

1995   
Muses and Lamentations, Goodman, Johannesburg, South Africa

1989   
Deborah Bell, Potchefstroom Museum, South Africa

1982   
Deborah Bell, Market Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

TWO - THREE PERSON GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2019    
Co-Respondences, Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg in collaboration with Ricky Burnett

1997    
Collaborations 1986-1997 (11 years of collaborative projects between artists Kentridge, Hodgins and Bell) at the Johannesburg Art Gallery, in association with the FNB Vita Awards, South Africa
UB101, a portfolio of etchings created in conjunction with Kentridge and Hodgins. Exhibited at the Grahamstown Festival and at the Gertrude Posel Gallery. Exhibition curated by Fiona Rankin-Smith

1994   
Memo, installation with video at the Grahamstown festival in collaboration with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, South Africa
Lamentations, Art First, Cork Street, London, UK

1993   
Easing the Passing (of the hours), Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Portraits in the round, ceramic exhibition in collaboration with William Kentridge and Retief van Wyk, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1992   
Easing the Passing (of the hours), computer Animation, laser prints and drawings in collaboration with William Kentridge and Robert Hodgins, Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa 

1991   
Little Morals, a portfolio of etchings created in conjunction with Hodgins and Kentridge, exhibited at the Cassirer Gallery, Johannesburg, Gallery International, Cape Town and Taking Liberties, Durban, South Africa

1988   
Exhibited with Jenny Stadler and Nagel at the Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1987-8
Hogarth in Johannesburg, a portfolio of etchings created in conjunction with Hodgins and Kentridge. This exhibition travelled to all the major centres in South Africa

1985   
MAFA exhibition, Rembrandt Gallery, Milner Park, Johannesburg, South Africa

1983-4
Exhibited with Hodgins and Sassoon, Carriage House Gallery, South Africa

FURTHER SELECTED GROUP EXHIBITIONS

2020    
Bronze, Steel, Stone and Bone, Everard Read London

2019   
Masterpiece London Art Fair, with Everard Read
Southern Aspect, Everard Read London
Summer, Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa

2018   
Bronze, Steel and Stone III, Everard Read London
Investec Cape Town Art Fair, with Everard Read

2017   
Bronze, Steel and Stone II, Everard Read London

2016   
Bronze, Steel and Stone I, Everard Read London
Opening Exhibition, Everard Read London

2016-7
TACIT, a group exhibition acknowledging 20 years of conjunction and reciprocity at Dionysus Sculpture Works studio and foundry, NWU Gallery, Potchefstroom and William Humphreys, Kimberley, and Pretoria Art Museum, Pretoria, South Africa

2015   
Bronze, Steel & Stone, Everard Read, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa
1:54 Fair, with Everard Read, London, UK

2013   
Summer of Sculpture, Everard Read, Cape Town, South Africa
Centenary Exhibition, CIRCA & Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

2012   
Rainbow Nation: Group exhibition of South African Sculptors, Museum Beelden Aan Zee, Den Haag, the Netherlands

2011   
HORSE, curated by Ricky Burnett, Everard Read, Johannesburg, South Africa

2010   
TWENTY, 20 Years of South African Sculpture, Nirox Foundation, South Africa

2009   
Contemporary Sculpture in the Landscape, Nirox Foundation, South Africa

2007   
Lift Off II, Goodman Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa
David Krut Print Workshop, UNISA Art Gallery, Pretoria, South Africa

2005   
Art Basel, with Goodman Gallery, Miami, USA
Works on Paper, Collaborative prints from David Krut Print Workshop, Franchise Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
David Krut Collaborations: 25 Years of Prints and Multiples, National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa

2004   
Earthworks/Claybodies, Sasol Museum Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa

2003   
Earthworks/Claybodies, Pretoria Art Museum, Standard Bank Centre Gallery, Johannesburg,
South Africa

2000   
Icons for the Millenium, Atlanta, USA

1999   
The Paper Show, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Emergence, Group Show, National Arts festival, Grahamstown, South Africa
Artery, AVA,  in conjunction with the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town,  South Africa
Artists in residence, Standard Bank National Arts Festival, Grahamstown, South Africa

1998   
Earth Hues – Contemporary African Art, World Space, Washington DC, USA
100 Artists Protest detention without trial, in aid of DPSC, Market Theatre, Johannesburg, South Africa
Artists for Human Rights Exhibition, Durban Exhibition Centre, South Africa
4 UNISA Lecturers, Bloemfontein, Pretoria Art Museum, South Africa

1997   
Im CRAM, AVA, in conjunction with the Goodman Gallery, Cape Town,  South Africa

1996   
Gay Rights: Rites, Re-writes, travelling exhibition, South Africa
Group Salon, Rose Korber representing artists at the Bay Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa
Common and Uncommon Ground: South African Art to Atlanta, City Gallery East, Atlanta, USA
Vita Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa
Tomorrow is Now, First Canadian Place and Knights Galleries International, Toronto, Canada
Barber Signs, the Standard Bank Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa 
Recent Drawings, Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg, South Africa
Ceramics Biennial, Sandton Art Gallery, South Africa

1995   
The Bag Factory: The First Five Years, the Civic Theatre Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
The Art of Tea, Kim Sacks Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Group Salon, Rose Korber representing artists at the Bay Hotel, Cape Town, South Africa

1994   
Group Show, Newtown, Johannesburg, South Africa
Anything Boxed, Group Show, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
South African works on Paper, North Western University of Illinois, Chicago, USA

1993   
Gallery on Tyrone, Johannesburg, South Africa
Vita Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa
Momentum Life Exhibition, Pretoria, South Africa
Internations of Millenium, Newtown Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1992   
ICA, 50 Johannesburg Artists, Johannesburg, South Africa
Paris: The Catalyst, Alliance Francaise, Durban, South Africa
Looking at Art: Looking at Watercolours, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Vita Awards, Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa
Works made in August, Newtown Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1991   
Cape Town Triennial, South Africa
Painted People: Painted Spaces, Newtown Galleries, Johannesburg, South Africa
Hand Coloured Graphics, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
Tiny Tapestry Show, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1990   
Women choose Women, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
Art from South Africa, MOMA, Oxford, UK
Standard Bank Drawing Competition, Johannesburg, South Africa

1989   
Volkskas Atelier Award Exhibition, Johannesburg Art Gallery, South Africa
African Encounters, Dome Gallery, New York and Washington, USA
The Little Big Show, Goodman Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

1988   
CASA (Culture for Another South Africa), conference in Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Volkskas Atelier Award exhibition, South African Association of the Arts, Pretoria, South Africa

1986   
Volkskas Atelier Award Exhibition, South African Association of Arts, Pretoria, South Africa

1985   
Cape Town Triennal, New Visions, Market Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa
11 Figurative Artists, Market Gallery, Johannesburg, South Africa

AWARDS AND MERITS

2013   
Medal of Honour for Visual Arts (Sculpture and Painting), Die Suid-Afrikanse Academie for Wetenskap en Kuns

1997   
APSA Award for the Best New Signature, Ceramics Biennial

1991   
Vita Quarterly Award, runner-up for Main Award
Mamba Award for the Most Sustained Artist

1986   
Merit Prize Winner, Volkskas Atelier

SELECTED COLLECTIONS 

BCE, Johannesburg

Bell, Dewar and Hall, Johannesburg
BHP Billiton South Africa Ltd.

Bristol Myers Squibb Corp. USA

The Leeu Collection, Franschhoek

Delaire Graff Wine Estate, Stellenbosch

Friends of the National Gallery, Cape Town

Hara Museum, Tokyo

Johannesburg Art Gallery

Johannesburg City Council

King George VI Art Gallery, Port Elizabeth

Legal Resources Centre, Johannesburg

Museum of Modern Art, New York

MTN Art Institute, Johannesburg

National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C
Oliewenhuis Museum, Bloemfontein

Pretoria Art Museum

Roodepoort Museum

SA National Gallery, Cape Town

Sanlam Collection

Sasol Collection

Smithsonian Institute, Washington, D.C

Standard Bank Investment Corporation, Johannesburg

Tatham Art Gallery, Pietermaritzburg

Telkom

UNISA Art Gallery

University of Pietermaritzburg Collection

University of the Orange Free State Collection

University of the Witwatersrand Collection

COMMISSIONS

1999   
Sculpture for Standard Bank

1991   
Large sculpture for Wits Business School
Artist-in-Residence, Standard Bank National Arts Festival – 25th Anniversary, Grahamstown

1994   
Graphics for Weekly Mail Film Festival Poster
Involvement in movie animation for Arts Alive
Title sequence for Grass Roots, NNTV

1993   
Graphics for Weekly Mail Film Festival Poster

1990-1
Set of 6 Graphics for First National Bank