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The Mystifying Element to Larry Bell's Paintings

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There is a mystifying element to Larry Bell's paintings - distance seems to add further enchantment. Up too close, I felt I was missing the forest for the trees. Nicole Longnecker Gallery has wisely hung the wonderful AAAAA98 at the furthest reach, so it dominates from afar.

I liked it enormously, without being able to determine why. It has a grey fish at the top, colorful vertical slivers, definitely a 3-dimensional feel, with perspective of depth. It reminded me both of the 1939 NYC World's Fair, and of an Oriental sedan chair, so I decided just to savor the mystery. AAAAA 78 adds a highly attractive salmon color, and has some representational clues, a central roll-up window-shade, some grey fabric at the right and bottom, and a glimpse of an alien sunrise or sunset. Somehow, I sensed that Larry Bell had been there, and seen it.

R 26 has a silvery central rectangle, devoid of detail, but still dominating. It seems artificial, inscrutable, and strangely soothing. MVD 178 has a figure standing, though obscured, and cascading fabrics, complex, intriguing, filled with energy and the mystery that this artist infuses into his mixed media works.

In MVD 278, Bell clearly indicates some garments, one a dominant black much like a rented graduation robe, on its back a large arrow pointing upward - signifying aspiration? There are some blues, some greyish browns, and the ambience has a joyful tingle, as though filled with expectation.

AAAAA58 indicates a room with a window, but the window provides a view of an alien skyscape, with strong powerful, pointed objects, perhaps hanging in abeyance, waiting their time to hurtle toward us. Maybe this perception is simply human paranoia, but it does seem clear that we are in contact here with a more advanced civilization.

MVD 279 is quieter, decorative, browns and greys, some dark blue, but filled with energy. There are three perforated strips that give the work its character and composition, but I couldn't fathom what they were - wiser heads may know.

Many of these works are in the 41 inches by 53 inches range, but there are some smaller ones, a "Fraction" suite, where the size is typically 13.5 inches square. Even here, Bell gives us complexity. In Fraction 2792, there is a clear sense of a grid - or a protective face mask? - a sports arena, and the curious sense that something important is happening here.

In Fraction 2311 Bell adds vivid yellow and orange, and in New Fraction 43 he adds a dominant yellow - these colorful splashes are welcome, but the works remain enigmatic. This is an artist with a clear vision, but with no intention of dissipating his power by revealing too much, and has zero interest in explicating his goals. He leaves it up to the viewer to immerse himself or herself in his extraordinary journeys, and this wisdom compels us into greater involvement.

Larry Bell was born in Chicago in 1938, and currently lives and works in Taos, New Mexico along with keeping a studio in Venice, California. His works have been included in major museums in the United States and some abroad, and he has received a number of important solo exhibitions - his work was included in the Getty Museum's 2012 "Review of LA Art 1945 to 1980". The current exhibition is subtitled "Three Decades", and showcases recent works as well as works from the 1990s.

Larry Bell Three Decades of Art continues through November 26 at the Nicole Longnecker Gallery in coordination with Logan Fine Arts, 2625 Colquitt, Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., 713-591-4997, longneckergallery.com.

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