Kari Bell is a contemporary abstract painter, working and drawing inspiration from personal experience, the natural landscape and rich history of New Mexico. Utilizing an experimental cold wax technique, Kari creates space for spontaneous happenings within the paint itself; the waxy surface can be scratched, gouged, patterned, pressed and stained layer after layer. This invites the viewer to take a deeper look. Her work interprets historical and geographical displacement, climate change and lived experience through the bold pairing of color, light, texture and form.
Much of Kari’s earlier aesthetic experiences were spent abroad in Spain and France. There Kari immersed herself in the expanse of European and Latin American arts and culture and assembled a mental portfolio, filing away vivid imagery, documenting experience and preserving memory while slowly integrating her own unique painterly framework and artist identity. She traveled and consumed arts, culture and music freely during a time when gendered sociocultural norms dictated that women take a more passive role. Further challenging a patriarchal legacy in academia, Kari served as a university educator and department chair of Modern Language Studies for more than three decades. In higher education, Kari sparked creative and academic dialogues to take shape in the classroom laboratory. These dialogues now enjoy a second life as Kari pours her rich lived experiences into vibrant contemporary compositions.
Now in a new chapter, the act of painting takes on a transformative and sometimes subversive role. Kari’s abstracted cold wax technique speaks to rejecting limiting societal and academic structures and instead unlocks creative possibility, unpredictability in material and new modes of learning-as-artist. For Kari, pushing boundaries encourages innovation, imagination and a deeper level of creative inquiry.
Part dream, part reality and part memory, I paint what I feel about what I see. I use oils and cold wax medium to create abstract paintings that reflect both my understanding and experience of living in the southwest. My process is like a superhighway with ideas flowing all the time until an exit says “get off”. This germination of ideas is ongoing, but I always sense when one is coming to fruition. For me, nothing is off limits; what I see is my truth. Helen Frankenthaler said, “In art, rules are meant to be broken.” I like to take it a step further. Breaking or bending the rules releases my creativity. Painting is the most challenging thing I have ever done and it is, as well, the most peaceful.
I am alternately fascinated, inspired, challenged by what I feel living in the Southwest. Trained early as a sociologist, my reactions to living in the desert, southwest history and geography as well as many socio-cultural concerns flow into my work. Specifically with regard to the subject of ‘roots’, my artistic goal is to capture the feel of the land, history and culture of the Southwest in abstraction, particularly the lives and history of the Indigenous peoples, their history, yes but more importantly, their story. The lives of the ancestral Puebloans permeates my work and carries me to a place of deeper understanding. To capture these elements in abstract fashion is demanding and gratifying.