In “Between Uncertainty,” Roberley Bell’s current exhibition (on view through July 2, 2021), floral wallpaper covers a corner of the gallery. Still Life with Table plays off the floral theme perfectly. Fanciful and provocative, the white wood and pink foam sculpture rises like a flowering bonsai with its twisted root base and puff top. It is almost delectable, a mix of cotton candy and ice cream, and a fitting signature piece in this gem of a show, which is pristinely installed in a narrow space, with a wall of glass giving luminosity to the work.
The eight sculptures featured in Bell’s debut show at BSG—from her ongoing “Still Life” and “Something” series, as well as a new series, “Foreign Objects,” begun during the pandemic—all have an amorphous quality, as if caught in one stage or another of gestation or evolution. The biomorphic shapes of Something #21, for instance, seem to be sprouting before our eyes, the white plaster revealing remnants of an organic process. An ovoid element, balanced on a slender stem, springs out of a smaller base form. Irregular spots of gold leaf add a mysterious touch, while drips of smooth plaster resemble raised veins. Foreign Object #33 begins with a white-painted block of wood, defined by an edge-line of deep orange that relates to a roughly textured piece of pumice dyed the same color. A delicate, hand-formed bronze vessel with a small finger hole, perched on top, recalls a ritualistic cup.
The longer one observes and reflects, the more thought-provoking and complex Bell’s juxtapositions of essential forms become. A sense of whimsy prevails throughout her work, and the unexpected is always at hand. There is also a sense of growth, informed by Bell’s avocation for gardening. The influence of nature is clearly present, along with an aura of new life and hopefulness. The “DNA” flowing through these works is consistent, producing generative, burgeoning forms—each one uniquely itself. Physical and visual balance are key, often pushing the limits of what is structurally possible. A wand rises from the sturdy root of Something #14, as straight as an avocado shoot. The delicate branch, tipped with deep fuchsia, looks as if it could extend endlessly into space. In Foreign Object #35, an organ-like vessel, bulbous at the bottom with a long, narrow neck, holds a graceful, Calder-like orange wire that twists upward, curls, and re-enters the base form. The sculpture is both graceful and awkward at the same time. The dynamic contrast between the thick, chunky body of the vessel and the airy, playful extension provides a fascinating study.
In Bell’s work, rigorous studio practice and a well-honed mode of conjoining the fluidity of plaster with mixed-media elements join together with marvelously imaginative improvisation. Though each sculpture begins with experimental drawings, there is a clear sense that the possibilities of “fortuitous accident” could lead to new directions. Intention, invention, and enigma are in continual interplay. Bell’s sense of antic humor, coupled with consummate skill, make for a unique and delightful journey through her creative world. Be prepared for surprise.