Skull Gully ll is Martin Bell’s first solo exhibition at Tolarno Galleries. It’s a big show of 24 drawings displayed, like a frieze, around the walls of the gallery.
Skull Gully, a collection of large ‘insanely detailed landscape studies’ first came into life in 2010 at the artist run space Hell Gallery. Skull Gully is an imaginary universe where toys, comic book characters, trees, tents, cubby houses … magically rub shoulders with each other.
'I believe in day dreams,’ says Martin Bell, ‘the expression and gesture of toys, and the ephemeral beauty of a dog-eared comic.'
For many years, Martin Bell has been an obsessive collector of toys, action figures, cartoon characters, comic books, model cars, model houses and much more. Comics got him interested in drawing when he was a kid and he began to create his own characters and develop his unique way of depicting events and telling stories. This led him to making books about his own experiences and when he launched himself as an artist in 2007, it was with the printed book My Birthday Party.
Martin Bell studied sculpture at the Victorian College of the Arts and made a myriad of small bronze sculptures in 2010, not to exhibit, but so they could 'pose' for his Skull Gully drawings. Look into one of Martin Bell's extremely detailed drawings and you'll find an astonishing array of disparate objects.
‘It’s all quite broad, says Max Olijnyk, ‘but if you relax and just let the whole thing soak into your brain, it all makes perfect, ridiculous sense. Every single piece of the puzzle is considered, every element a key player in Marty’s wonderful imagination/reality.’
‘It is hard to resist making lists when contemplating these drawings,’ says Frances Parker in the introduction to Martin Bell’s newest book: ‘Bell also constructs models and dioramas to sketch from, so that it becomes impossible to know in which dimension he invented the vignettes his drawings reveal or at what level their elements existed in the world, if at all. On paper, anything is possible.’
Included in the exhibition are a number of smaller drawings. Poignant and at times very funny, some are on pages of letterhead from his old employer Sotheby's; some have been torn from a sketch book; others are covered with notes or are simply statements like: I WAS A KID WHEN IT WAS STILL COOL TO SMOKE AND PLAY MARBELS. AND READ COMICS. There are demons too. They reveal a lot about his attitude and temperament. But you have to be in the know to be aware that he is not above 'placing fictitious exhibition listings' in art magazines or 'inventing' a gallery to shake the status quo. He is somewhat outside and underground and that puts us on edge.
Martin Bell’s new book MARTIN BELL: ROCKS AND DVDS $2 accompanies the exhibition.
The Skull Gullly ll catalogue with essay by Francis E. Parker be available online from 30 July 2013.
Image: Martin Bell photographed by Kirstin Gollings 2012
Press release courtesy Tolarno Galleries.