In 15 oil paintings on display, Bell writes, "I connected the ancient myths associated with each constellation by pairing it with an earthly equivalent. I used familiar objects as references to the universal - a microcosm/macrocosm." Astrologers believe that the events and activities on earth are mirrored in the heavens or, to be more precise, the events and activities on earth are directly influenced by the alignment of forces reflected by the positions of the energy sources in the heavens.
One of the recurring themes in seven of the 15 works is a small box, four inches square, centered in the lower quadrant of the painting. The box contains objects painted or placed with great care in a realistic style, while the main area of the painting is a textured or patterned area, painted in a more casual, nonrepresentational style.
In Cassiopeia, for example, we have the background/foreground of the painting with a blue wash, while within the four-inch square is part of the face of Cassiopeia. It is as if the square is a window from Cassiopeia's world, and she is looking out at us. This painting might suggest someone who presents an exterior that blends in by its formlessness or suppression of anything that might cause controversy. It is an exterior that is agreeable by its lack of anything to disagree with.
But beyond the blue background presented to the world lies the hidden subject. All we see of Cassiopeia are her forehead, eyes, and the bridge of her nose, which creates an aura of mystery, almost like she has opened the little sliding door to a 1920s speakeasy and is deciding if she will let us in.
In Andromeda, we have the archetypal damsel in distress in the box, which in this painting has become three-dimensional. Andromeda is represented by a small figurine of a young girl, sitting on a red object within her four-inch box while the surrounding painting area suggests a blue-green star-filled sky. Once again, we have the agreeable vast area of the painting, with the small window into the area within which Andromeda waits for her rescue by Perseus on his winged steed. The three-dimensional box gives us more of an invitation to enter and less of a feeling of concealment. Given that Andromeda is awaiting liberation from her prison, an invitation to enter is appropriate, and, astrologically, this painting might show the inner self waiting for help to break free.
Box of Charms really brings home the idea of inner change revealing itself to the outer. In this painting, we not only have the three-dimensional box, but within that box we have a painting of another box with its lid opening and charms inside. And in addition to the inner box within the inner box being opened, the outside area is becoming less of an imageless wash, with silhouettes of flowers and an arching representation of a solar eclipse dominating the upper portion of the composition. An eclipse is a symbol of change or revelation with day turned into night and the sun's corona revealing itself when the overwhelming energy of the sun is blocked by the moon. So in astrological terms, the inner box opening with charms inside is the inner self opening, causing the outer self to be less formless and take on more definition.
This show was interesting to me from a cerebral reflective point of view, as opposed to an emotionally reactive point of view. If you like an art show that invites contemplation, you'll like this one. Given that the art space is also a hallway, it is not easy to stop and reflect on the paintings, but as long as you ignore passersby, it's fun to contemplate what these paintings show us about change and growth, and the struggle to liberate the self within.
If you are near Locust and Brady Streets in Davenport, it's worth the detour to Gains Street to check out this show in the new art space at St. Ambrose University's Galvin Fine Arts Center lobby. The display area consists of two glass cases - each about 30 feet wide and five feet tall - mounted on the lobby walls.
I hope that as St. Ambrose embarks on its building program, it shows that it values the visual arts by devoting even more resources to displaying art. I applaud the school for this step in the right direction, but ask if they are truly proud that this is the only space the university can call an art gallery.
Box of Stars runs through October 16 in the Galvin Fine Arts Lobby Gallery.