Artist Katie Bell stood smiling among the collection of materials she’d gathered around town for her exhibition at University Galleries. It looks like a construction site, but the materials are on the verge of being formed into the visual landscape of a deconstructed painting.
“I was inspired by the gallery space having this interesting angled ceiling, almost like a wedge shape," said Bell. "So far, I’ve found a few columns, scraps of drywall, scraps of laminate countertops, aluminum that I think goes on a roof, different concrete objects.”
All these materials will come together in a site-specific exhibition entitled “Standing Arrangement,” on view at the Galleries through Aug. 4. Although her background is in painting, Bell explained that her work actually touches on multiple categories, including sculpture. How Bell assembles the materials is based on her interest in abstract painting.
“I lay the materials out like you would a painting pallet,” said Bell. “What are the colors I’m about to work with, what are their forms. So, it’s like making a painting. I’m laying things out like a blown-up pallet and looking down, bird’s eye view and figuring out, where are these things going to go, how are they going to connect to each other.”
“I come from an interest in abstract painting and how color and shapes can transform a space, and how that can connect a viewer to this abstract landscape.”
“Standing Arrangement” is curated by Jessica Bingham, who assisted Bell in collecting items for the exhibition.
“Around the area we’ve had a few different tours with creative people who were willing to work with us and show us their spaces,” explained Bingham. “Their homes, construction sites. It was about four or five hours of looking through objects and then bringing them back to the gallery and playing around with what we had here, looking at colors, shapes and scale and how things will look in the space.”
Being surrounded by bits and pieces of construction materials comes naturally to Katie Bell, who grew up in a vintage Victorian home that was under constant renovation. Construction and deconstruction became a natural part of her artistic vocabulary.
“It’s been this lifelong project of renovating and restoring the house,” Bell revealed. “We started in the upstairs apartment of the house and eventually moved into the full house. For me it was always about thinking about things as rooms. 'Oh, don’t go in that room; it’s totally dusty. This one’s OK to go into.’ And thinking about how spaces can unfold in that way and how walls create space and how rooms can transform a space.”
The objects Bell collects come with their own built-in history that she utilizes in the installation.
“I’m thinking about how I can transform them into part of my world, but obviously this history comes with them. So, I’m hoping that the viewer at this show has this kind of abstract landscape that they’re walking through, almost like surveying damage after this unusual storm. It’s a storm in a painting language.”
“It’s an abstracted explosion of sorts.”
Bell’s exhibition is site-specific. Once the show closes, the installations are taken down, never to be reassembled again. Bell admitted that initially she was sad to see her work pulled apart, but now she embraces the fact that the installations will be no more.
“Working site-specifically has opened up my work in such a great way. It allows me to work as large as I want. I can really think bigger than I could before when I was trying to think about how to ship something or how to move it.”
“I take really good documentation and video and I make miniature scale models of every show that I’ve produced. So, I have a keepsake, of sorts, at the studio. I get more excited about being able to do it, so the thought that it comes down, it’s okay because I can make another one.”
“Standing Arrangement” is up at the University Galleries through Aug. 4. A selection of Bell’s paintings will be concurrently on view at ISU’s Milner Library.
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