Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle upon Tyne
Arts Lottery Project
Bringing something new to a hackneyed view is rare yet Harry Bell’s oils of Newcastle’s Quayside have consistently achieved this over recent years. Standing on the Tyne Bridge looking towards Newcastle, the two paintings in casualty depict views to right and left. Bell’s work is boldly pictorial, oil on board and centres on the dramatic quality of light on buildings, and in this case bridges. The paint is vigorously applied. Somehow you don’t expect the subject matter to be tackled this way.
The paintings in casualty are very popular as you would expect, for the subject matter and style of painting makes them instantly recognised by a partisan Geordie public. But some comments are not about the subject matter but how it is painted and show a well deserved appreciation.
Harry Bell lives in Gateshead from which the view of Newcastle lies before him like a stage set. The vista has consistently provided his inspiration. This, however, may change in the future because bell’s ciscumstances have altered dramatically. Following considerable interest in his work from regional curators and academics, plus some competition success, Bell gained sufficient confidence to take early retirement from his career in the civil service. He is now a second-year student at Newcastle University where he is taking a fine art degree.
Germaine Stanger, Autumn 1998
Harry Bell: paintings
After a visit to Newcastle a distinguished architectural critic once declared that, “It must be a very difficult to be an abstract painter here because the city and especially the quayside is so pictorial”. One knows what he meant. The spatial drama of the Tyne gorge with bridges sweeping across the river and skimming over the tops of buildings or the way in which stepped roofscapes split by stairwells and those narrow incisions through buildings known as chares, creating staccato rhythms of solids and voids, is almost irresistible.
Harry Bell, a native of Tyneside, perfectly vindicates the late Ian Nairn’s assertion: he loves the quayside area and he paints it with a matching passion. It would be a mistake, however, to suppose that his motive is merely to record the picturesque. As well as the drama of space he also captures the poignant drama of time. It is there in the sombre blackness of the buildings, the rusticated late Victorian office blocks with their redundant notice boards advertising long gone sailings to Bremerhaven or the faded lettering on the empty Western Union office. It is there in the grimy windows and the grubby brickwork, a history which recent attempts at trendification fail to obliterate.
Harry Bell tells us all this in paintings which nearly always start from radical aerial viewpoints or suddenly cut-off compositions. He favours subdued tonalities, dark oppositions of warm and cold colours which somehow seem to personify that permanently shadowed area. His registration of this unmistakeably urban light has echoes of both Sickert and Edward Hopper but Bell is, of course, his own man. Neither of his illustrious forebears were so obviously driven by a sense of ‘genius loci’ as he so patently, and passionately, is.
William Varley (Art Critic) 1995
We are lapping up the paintings of Harry Bell. He makes cityscapes which remind us of our favourite stuff by US artist Wayne Thiebaud who renders roads, buildings and other general what-have-you that makes up city life, but in such a way as to to make them seem beautiful. It's all down to colour and the application of it.
THE CRACK (October 2009)
Bell's work is striking and could be recommended for fans of David Hockney, as he works in bright block colours with attractive compositions.
THE COURIER (9 Nov 2009)
HARRY BELL: Town & Country
Went to see Harry Bell's exhibition Town & Country at Newcastle Arts Centre. Not enough people were there though. Harry's paintings of Newcastle show his love of the city. His vision is romantic and optimistic without ever becoming sentimental. The paintings of the station at night really capture the feelings of anticipation and expectation you get when leaving on a train, or arriving home after a trip. His city is not the traditional one of Newcastle, 'Fog On The Tyne' and all that. It is very much a post-industrial metropolis; people hurrying for the metro; shopping and hopping on and off buses. It's a shame Newcastle doesn't love Harry as much as he loves the city. As a postscript the paintings of old hedges and walls made me want to go and study them for myself. He notices and records things we see, but don't observe.
PAUL MINGARD - Hawthorn Cottage Industries (8 Aug 2012)