Most people experience nature in a mitigated form, a watered down version that is more palatable than the raw, cruel unpredictability of the natural world. We see nature on screens or in books, we walk through parks, sit quietly in stylized landscapes. But the experiences, however enchanting we might find them, are to varying degrees man-made creations.
It is at this junction, where nature and culture meet, that artist Roberley Bell’s work is born. Her visually splendid, vibrantly colored and curiously shaped sculptures on view at BT&C Gallery, give us fantastical works that seem to reference the natural world, yet are so obviously full of artifice that the line between the reality of nature and the artist’ imaginings becomes wonderfully confused and blurry.
Walking into a gallery of Bell’s work is a delightful experience. You are immediately struck by the intensity of the colors and the cheeky playfulness of the amorphous, bloblike sculptures as they sprout playful, curling wires or brightly colored, plastic flowers.
One of these works, a nebulous pink blob titled “For HM, for Now,” is perhaps the most anthropomorphic of the sculptures as it bears a striking resemblance to a nude figure jauntily lounging back on an elbow. Since the title references Henry Moore, the renowned sculptor of semi-abstracted nude figures, the resemblance is likely. This work, as with her others, has elements that remind you of nature, the organic curves, the plastic flowers and in “HM’s” case, a tiny potted cactus and plaster ducks that wade through colorful shag carpeting.
But the organic tendencies in these works are usurped by the overall synthetic quality. The sculptures sit on bases that either look like coffee tables or in the case of “Other Landscape #19,” an actual log completely coated in a synthetic substance.
Combine all of this with the highly processed veneers, the use of manufactured goods and the commercial, stock colors and you begin to realize that the natural has been swallowed up, consumed if you will. It’s as if the outdoors has been turned into a kitschy living room, or a kitschy living room was released into the wild.
Either way, you’re pretty sure after a few minutes of viewing that the delight and playfulness of these works is underpinned by a more complex conversation about the natural world and how we engage with it.
One of the smaller sculptures in the show, “Other Landscape #15,” a pared down version of the larger blob sculptures, sits on a vivid aqua-colored stand. It is all nebulous, hot pink shine with a yellow wire and coordinating plastic pink daisy protruding from its top. Anchoring the composition is a tiny porcelain dog, a tchotchke you might pick up from a garage sale. Its dwarfed by the looming pink form that sits next to it. The juxtaposition of scale between the two objects, as well as the familiarity of the dog next to the indefinable blob is disorienting, yet completely engaging at the same time.
The way Bell’s work pulls your attention back and forth – from inside to outside, from artificial to natural, from real to imagined – represents a tension that exists in our culture. Rather than come to a specific conclusion or moralize about this complex relationship with nature, Bell cultivates these tensions, turning them into brilliant, visual fantasy lands where conflicting tendencies give rise to hybrid forms of her own making.
They leave you wanting to know more about these peculiar scenes and what they are saying, to jump down the rabbit hole with Bell and see the world as she is seeing it.
What: Roberley Bell: Some Things
When: Through May 29
Where: Body of Trade and Commerce Gallery, 1250 Niagara St.