Painting of the Day

20 Feb

Never Look Back - Michael Bell

Never Look Back. by Michael Bell (born 1971). Oil on canvas, 2008.

Notes from

In “Ticket to Ride” Michael Bell created a cinematic painting series as a journey through one woman’s harrowing search for redemption, only nothing inspires redemption quite like revenge. “Never Look Back” is the fourth of nine large-format mixed-media paintings that range from emotionally-driven portraits as allegories reminiscent of dramatic film-stills to dark, ambiguous hotel room scenes and metropolitan landscapes on 60″ X 60″ canvases overlaid with mixed-media subway maps painted into the background of each work.

Bell’s narrative strategy is for the viewer to question how much of Ticket to Ride is just a dream, and how much is rooted in reality. Its major movement is the journey taken by an Italian Femme Fetale that begins on a New York City subway platform awaiting her metaphorical “train” and her journey continues — painting by painting — like a roller coaster ride through her mind.

In Never Look Back our Italian Femme Fetale contradicts the title by doing exactly what the title suggests she not do, as she glances back at a White Surveillance Van in the alley.

My comments:

This painting looks remarkably like drawing to me due to the use of clearly visible, well-defined lines, especially in the figure of the woman. The fact that she’s looking back despite the maxim in the title reminds me of the Bible story of Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt when she does not obey her husband’s instructions to not look back at the burning cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. This painting doesn’t really reveal if there are consequences to the woman looking back. I wonder how this fits into the narrative of the story as well. The interesting thing that I’m coming to realize about these narrative series of paintings is that they are individualized enough to stand alone as their own narrative artwork. This is quite different from novels: if we just read individual chapters of a novel, it wouldn’t really make too much sense, or it would leave loose ends or seem as if it was missing something. With these paintings, if I didn’t know any better, I wouldn’t expect any of these individual paintings to be a small part of a larger sequential series.

At the same time, this painting does have many cliffhangers in it. We still have yet to see the face of the woman fully frontally, which preserves and intensifies her mystery. At this point she is still generic enough for us as viewers to really be incapable of assigning any psychological or personality characteristics to her, or any kind of substantial identity. The surveillance van that she watches drive away from her is also a big mystery. Did she just talk to the driver and the painting shows them parting, or did she hide from it and is emerging from her hiding spot once she felt the coast was clear? What is her culpability in the apparent murder that has taken place, as the second painting in the series, Room Service, would suggest?


One Response to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara February 21, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    last sentence in your first paragraph in your comments doesnt lookright. don’t you mean, if you didn’t know any better you would NOTexpect any of these paintings etc etc ?

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