Bell attended the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles from 1957 to 1959, where he created abstract oil paintings dominated by gestural brushstrokes influenced by Abstract Expressionism.
Throughout his career, Larry Bell has made investigations into the properties of light on surface. By experimenting with the nature of surface and its relationship to space, Bell has devised a methodology characterized by spontaneity, intuition, and improvisation.
Bell began his career in 1959 and his earliest works consisted of abstract, monochrome paintings on paper and shaped canvases whose outlines corresponded to the silhouette of a box drawn in isometric projection. Panes of glass and then mirrors were substituted for parts of the painted design and this exploration of spatial ambiguity eventually evolved into sculptural constructions made of wood and glass. These works represent the genesis of Bell’s later glass cubes and standing glass-panel wall sculptures.
From 1963 onward, Bell began exploring the passing of light through the cube sculptures, deploying a technique of vacuum deposition whereby thin films were added to the clear glass panels. Bell found that these glass cubes, presented on transparent pedestals, offered the viewer the essence of the captured light, becoming, in the process, tapestries of reflected, transmitted and absorbed light. Challenging notions of mass, volume, and gravity in one single measure, the cubes appeared to float on the light between the floor and the work.
From 1968 to 1969 Bell commissioned the building of a coating device in order to produce work on a more environmental scale. During the plating process, thin metal films are deposited onto another material, mainly glass, resulting in a coating that allows light to be reflected, transmitted and absorbed simultaneously. He began creating sculptural installations with large sheets of glass that were rendered partly mirrored and partly transparent through the vacuum deposition procedure, thereby making the glass surfaces almost disappear and volumes become weightless. The colors which become visible are known as ‘interference color’; an illusion which results when light hits the sculptures’ surface. Throughout that period, Bell produced interior wall environments, such as "The Black Room" for both the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1969 and the Tate Gallery in 1970.
In 1978 Bell began experimenting with depositing the coatings on paper, finding in the process that the paper did not transmit light but only reflected or absorbed it. This body of work, known as "Vapor Drawings", continues to this day. In the early 1980s Bell began combining different surface qualities as layers within the "Vapor Drawing" oeuvre, such as Mylar and laminating film, to create the so-called "Mirage works" – a mirage being an illusion which results from a combination of heat and light.
Bell’s more recent "Light knot" sculptures developed from these "Mirage works", eschewing their paper and laminate film and using only Mylar. These fluid works are composed of pliable, curvaceous-shaped sheets of polyester film that have been coated with metals and quartz. Highly reflective, the sheets are twisted into a knot and hung from a ceiling. Ceaselessly in motion, propelled by any slight air movement, these undulating sculptures act like a series of mirrors that reflect the viewer and their immediate spatial surroundings. Larry Bell currently lives and works between Los Angeles and Taos, New Mexico. He also has exhibited widely.
AAAAA109 Mirage Work
LMELBK 3 (Vapor Drawing)
Untitled (Iridescent Cube)
Mirage Construction #15
Untitled (vapor drawing)
Fraction No. 4369
AAAAA113 Mirage Work
Untitled (from Elin Series)
Untitled (SMTTHOJ #1)
Cube #40 (Blue and Light Gray)
Mirage Construction #17
Untitled (vapor drawing)
Cube #31 (Amber)
Mirage Study #14
“Masking the paper with thin PET film strips to expose areas related to the shape of the page plane enabled me to generate images spontaneously,” he said of his process. “This work gave me a conscious glimpse of the inherent power of spontaneity and improvisation. The work happened intuitively — in a short amount of time I created a number of interesting pieces.”
“What interests me in the process is the very ironic and improbable reality that is the unexpected,” Larry explains. “Spontaneity and improbability are the kinds of things that turn me on. The three most important tools in an artist’s studio,” he emphasizes, “are improvisation, spontaneity, and intuition.”
“Being an artist is just not a normal kind of life. There are no eight-hour days. There are 24 hour days, and that’s all there is.”
Larry has been a leading figure in the American Light and Space movement since the 1960s.
Larry is the “comeback kid” with a second artistic wind filling his sails. But he’s never lost his sense of self, nor has he been carried away with his good fortune. His sign-off to all is “peace and love.”
It is known that Larry was married.