Sep 3 – Oct 3, 2020


3 September - 3 October 2020

Everard Read London is delighted to present Sentinels (2020), a major exhibition of new monumental sculptures as well as new paintings, created over the past two years by Deborah Bell, one of South Africa’s most eminent and critically acclaimed artists.

At the heart of the exhibition are eight towering, 2.5-metre-high sculptures, Sentinels (2020). Cast in bronze, their origins trace back to the series of nine sentinels the artist made in 2003. Those sentinels drew some of their inspiration from the columnar figures and statuary which Bell was looking at during this period; they became like guardians, observers occupying a place of stillness and reflection.

Bell subscribes to the notion of art as magical object and she makes artworks with the intention to transform. She likens her work to “a form of alchemy, an ancient process of transmutation of base metals into gold, in search of the meaning of life.” Indeed, she feels that each new image she creates is a transformation, a melting in the crucible which results in a personal transformation. In this, there is something shamanistic about her practice. 

Bell is fascinated by ancient civilisations and their excavated artefacts. Her work incorporates powerful images and layered visual, symbolic and iconographic references of past and present worlds. In her iconography, the artist draws from a range of cultures - African, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, early Christian, European - and a range of psychologies and philosophies, particularly the Buddhist preoccupation with stillness and the shedding of attachment and the ego.

Bell’s artworks convey themes that have evolved through dreams, meditations, altered states, spiritual quests and the process of working. They record her journey into the mysteries of the cosmos – and, like metaphors, like symbols, her works stand for the beings, the presences, the nodes of meaning and association that she has encountered along the way.

In Bell’s recent work human figures have embodied the seeker on a journey, often accompanied by lions, hounds, wolves, horses and totemic modes of transport such as boats and chariots. However, her newest work is characterised by a sense of coming home; with a greater emphasis on the human body being on this earth. There is an increased sense of acceptance of our materiality; a surrendering to who we are, and the suggestion of an end to the constant quest for transcendence.


Photography, Liz Whitter