Leslie Bell’s artistic practice is impossible to pin down, incorporating installation art, painting, performance, and video manipulation, among others. We tend to have a soft spot for her work in animation (go figure), but even then, picking just one work is a difficult choice.
Bell’s films are diverse in terms of medium, exploring hand-drawn cell animation, manipulated video, and varied approaches to paint on glass, but they share a few common elements: a clear fascination with fluid motion, an openness to chaos and complexity, and an overall mood that’s somewhere between the celestial and the psychedelic. With a few exceptions, her films are often dreamy and languidly paced, with multiple layers of images drifting over melodic drones or other, equally ambient soundscapes.
If we’re going to highlight just one, 2011’s Chromafilm is as good an entry point as any. Although it’s no less abstract than any of the films listed above, the film’s kaleidoscopic framing gives a structure to the images that makes it a little more accessible, using symmetry to highlight the beauty of the swirling paint. The powerful back-light seems to burn through the pools of colour that Bell builds and manipulates, looking at times like solar flares, or at others like the film itself is burning away.
There’s enough intricacy to the imagery that you’re bound to imagine faces and figures if you stare deeply enough, angelic or insect-like faces created by the brain’s love of bilateral symmetry. It’s a meditative experience, or maybe a transcendent one—the brightest moments certainly feel downright heavenly.
Bell has expanded on that mystical feeling in works like the Save Us Ultra Violet film and performance series, which invokes Pantone’s 2018 colour of the year as if it was a guardian spirit, but even without that explicit connection to the occult, there’s still something eerie about Chromafilm. It isn’t a huge leap from the swirling hues here to the notion that colour itself can come alive, maybe as a savior, or something else altogether.
dir: Leslie Bell
stop-motion animation, paint over back-lit glass. original soundtrack.