Painting of the Day

26 Feb




Check In, Check Out - Michael BellThe N and the R - Michael Bell

Check in, Check Out (top painting) and The N and the R (bottom painting).by Michael Bell (born 1971). Oil on canvas, 2008-2010.

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.

“Check In, Check Out” is the eigth of nine large-format mixed-media paintings that is a mirror image of Scene 2, “Room Service”, only the hotel room is completely cleaned up now.  Each painting ranges 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 the end, the littered hotel room scene from Work 2 is mirrored with an empty hotel room scene in Work 8. The final scene (Work 9) brings the viewer full circle to the same Femme fetale on the subway platform in Work 1, to make us wonder, “Was this all just a dream or a foreshadowing of events to come?” On some level – visually and psychologically – every scene shimmers with unreality from one painting to the next like pieces to a puzzle or clues to a crime, only Bell’s work compels the viewer to participate in the ambiguity of the drama.

My comments:

I’m showing two paintings today because frankly I’m ready to move on to some new works. But the narrative ends on a disquieting note. As viewers we feel confused about whether what we just watched was real or imagined or foreshadowed, and it is ultimately an unsatisfying story. Since it was implied in the 6th painting that we the viewers were the ones who died, it’s now ambiguous as to whether we are actually dead or alive (within the narrative, of course; obviously we’re still alive). So why make a completely mysterious story? It may be an allegory for Bell’s opinion that art is open to interpretation and that there is no set answer about any artwork. We discussed this very question in my Art History first-year seminar last semester, as we tried to figure out where the truth about a painting comes from. Does it strictly come from the artist’s intentions, and as critical analyzers of art we should be concerned with discovering the artist’s intention? But if the subconscience exists, is it valid to analyze paintings based on what we think the artist’s inner psyche may be revealing? Or does an artwork’s truth come not from an artist’s intent, but from how it interacts with viewers, in which case an artwork will have a different but valid meaning for every viewer?

After having a few art history classes now and working on my own art, I do find that art reveals things about yourself that you may not have been thinking about. But I also know that having art historical knowledge makes an experience of an artwork so much more richer and learned. So I think there is a combination of both artist’s intent and artist’s inner psychology in developing a cogent interpretation of an artwork. But I also think that really coming up with a plausible reading of the artist’s subconscience can only come after studying that artist very deeply. There’s no way the first-time Picasso viewer would be able to understand the inner feelings of Picasso better than the scholars who have studied him for their entire lives. People might talk about the virtue of “virginal” eyes that are untainted by years of looking at so many artworks and how this is a fresh perspective that makes no assumptions, but I am of the mind, based on my own experience of remembering what it was like to know nothing about art and see it versus knowing what I do now (which isn’t a lot but still much more than I did before), that more experience with art ultimately trumps less experience.

2 Responses to “Painting of the Day”

  1. tara February 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    it wqould be intersting to see all of the paintings together in one exhibit. where are these located?

  2. Michael Bell June 20, 2013 at 1:31 am #

    A friend shared this link with me that you examined some of my work from my Ticket to Ride series at I found your comments and insights fascinating. If you’d actually like an answer to the questions you had if be happy to share. You can connect with me via FB or Twitter @mbellart

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