In the realm of contemporary art, Mike Bell stands out as a visionary artist who seamlessly blends iconic pop culture imagery with modern-day situations. His canvases become vibrant, bold, offbeat, and humorous narratives, reflecting a genre known as lowbrow art. Drawing inspiration from classic monsters, science fiction, vintage toys, MAD Magazine, pin-ups, and Japanese cartoons, Bell’s work transports us back to his youth while offering a figurative storytelling experience that is undeniably weird, yet undeniably cool.
A Brushstroke of Creativity:
Mike Bell’s artistic journey is defined by his ability to intertwine cultural forces from his upbringing into captivating visuals. His paintbrush acts as a conduit, channeling the essence of his favorite childhood influences onto the canvas. Classic monsters come alive, intergalactic tales unfold, and nostalgic characters spring forth from his work, each telling its own whimsical story. Bell’s artistic prowess lies in his ability to translate his love for pop culture into a unique and engaging visual language.
The Matchbook Marvels:
In recent years, Mike Bell introduced a unique gallery concept that has taken the art world by storm. Combining his love for portraiture and unconventional mediums, Bell creates black and white pencil portraits of iconic celebrities on matchbooks, integrating the actual matches into the display. What started as random bar doodles has evolved into a phenomenon, capturing the attention of art enthusiasts and collectors alike.
Bell’s matchbook art has garnered significant recognition, with approximately 40 of his pieces currently touring the renowned Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Museums. The juxtaposition of delicate pencil sketches on the tiny matchbooks, complemented by the striking presence of the matches themselves, adds a touch of intrigue and mystique to each piece. It’s a testament to Bell’s ability to find inspiration in the simplest of objects and transform them into captivating works of art.
Hailing proudly from the Jersey Shore, Mike Bell’s upbringing and surroundings have played a pivotal role in shaping his artistic identity. Born and raised in this vibrant coastal region, Bell draws inspiration from the relaxed atmosphere, the sun-kissed beaches, and the diverse cultural influences that surround him. When he’s not engrossed in creating his next matchbook masterpiece or monster-themed artwork in his home studio, you’ll find Bell enjoying the sand between his toes or unwinding in his backyard hammock, basking in the serenity that his surroundings provide.
Mike Bell’s artistic journey is a testament to the power of merging nostalgia, pop culture, and a touch of whimsy to create captivating and thought-provoking art. Through his vivid and imaginative canvases, he invites viewers to relive their own childhood memories and embark on a journey filled with laughter, wonder, and a healthy dose of the unexpected. Bell’s unique matchbook artistry further showcases his ability to transcend conventional boundaries and infuse new life into everyday objects. As we witness the continuing evolution of Mike Bell’s art, we can’t help but appreciate the passion, creativity, and playfulness that define his remarkable body of work.
The Mashups Q&A
Gnarly: When did you start painting the mashups?
Mike Bell: I started painting them in 2020, a few months into Covid. Since I had plenty of time it was a very productive time for me. A time to experiment and try some new art. I was inspired by artist Wayne White, who amongst other things was the set and puppet designer for Pee Wee’s Playhouse. He has a series of “Word Paintings” that I love. He basically integrates giant words or sayings (usually humorous profanity) onto thrift store landscape paintings. So I wanted to try something similar but with my own twist. I introduced figures into a few thrift store finds. I used some of the pop culture icons that I use in my other paintings and the compositions worked really well.
Can you give us a brief overview of what your mashups are?
The mashups are old discarded paintings that I find in thrift stores, junk stores, and yard sales. They are old and outdated but some are really beautiful pieces and are usually in funky frames. I add whatever figures I think will work with the existing composition, and bring new life to them. I love the idea of “upcycling” these forgotten paintings and creating something cool and humorous.
Where do you typically find the source paintings?
I had previously purchased a few thrift store paintings at a Salvation Army, simply for the big wooden frames. But the more I looked at them the more I admired the quality of the painting. I have found them in yard sales, thrift stores, and some people have given me paintings from their parents’ or grandparents’ homes and let me add my touch to them, which gives them new life.
Are these mashup paintings an outlet that allows you to create and sell art more quickly? Or is it just more fun to see pop culture icons out of context in what some would call “motel art” scenes?
If the paintings weren’t fun to create then I wouldn’t do them. I enjoy coming up with the compositions and the challenge of placing the appropriate figures in the existing art and making them appear to belong there. Viewers’ reactions are the real rewarding part. It’s refreshing to see a room full of people smiling and laughing at the art. Every person interprets art differently making it unique for each individual viewer. I do believe that the mashups offer some interesting insights based on the juxtapositions of pop culture into the existing older landscapes. But having said that I truly believe that ART CAN BE FUN!
Do you have mashup paintings in any galleries around the country?
Currently, the mashup paintings are in three different galleries. But I would like to get them in more, I really think people will enjoy them.
Are there any characters or movies that you tend to gravitate to when creating a new mashup?
The characters I place in the mashups are generally the same icons that I use in my regular paintings. Pop culture icons with a heavy dose of monsters, sci-fi, and cartoons.
Do you re-frame the mashup paintings or keep them in their “original packaging”?
Most of the time I keep them the same because they come in big funky wooden frames. Sometimes I paint them, add to them or simply reframe them.
Visit Mike Bell’s official website and Instagram page to see more of his work.