Still Life with Table (detail), 2018. Mixed media, 28 x 17 x 50 in. Photo: Tom Loonan

Object Lessons: Roberley Bell

Still Life with Table consists of pieces, without a hierarchy. It’s not just an arrangement of objects; the thing that it sits on is also part of the sculpture. I have all these forms and parts—things that I make, things that I’ve collected and altered—and they sit around, sometimes for years. I start with drawing, which is like thinking. It lets me invent something, but I don’t want to define it on a piece of paper, I want to define it in space. I always think about these pieces as finding form. For me, it’s like inventing form where it doesn’t exist. “Then again,” the series title, is about the honest idea that I could put this piece here, or then again it might work there. Everything has the opportunity to be transitory until it’s not.

I come from a sense of making that is very much about visual balance—physical balance, too, and I really push the edge of that. There has to be a compositional sense of how all the elements come together, that they’re right for each other. While I was carving the resting points for the triangulated piece of wood, I had to lean it on something. It’s just a little chunk of wood, but it was a breakthrough. That bit of turquoise built up of many layers of paint becomes a focal point in either equilibrium or competition with the pink of the cloud-like form on top. Once you notice it, you’re moving through the entirety of the form—and that’s what’s important. My work is really about the details that maybe you don’t see at first glance. How do you move from something curvilinear to something rectangular? How do you move from wood to plaster? I spend a lot of time on those transitional points, but I’m well aware that many viewers never notice them.