Painting is, for me, a consummation of joyful spiritual experience. And that experience comes to me most vibrantly through intimacy with nature.From The Peter Bell Mural - a living chromatic fantasy by James Wade, The Evening Telegram, June 3, 1990.
Peter Bell was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, in 1918. Bell enlisted as a wireless operator with the merchant marine on the eve of World War II and in 1947, emigrated to South Africa where he attended Cape Town University. Though architecture was his first interest, he soon turned to fine arts. After completing a bachelor of fine arts, he moved to Natal and eventually became department head at Ndaleni Art School. This position was terminated in 1963 when, under mounting pressure from the South African government because of his vocal opposition to apartheid, Bell was forced to leave the country.
He emigrated to Newfoundland in 1966, to become the curator of Memorial University Art Gallery (now the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador). At this time he also taught art courses at the University. His tenure as curator lasted until 1972 when he became Memorial University's artist-in-residence.
Bell was well-known for the art column he wrote from 1973 to 1980 for the St. John's newspaper, The Evening Telegram. His column often featured scathing criticism of local artists, which did little to endear him to the provincial arts community. Still, his columns featured thorough critiques, and while many artists disliked him, few could argue that he was not highly knowledgeable and passionate about art.
Botany was another of Bell's passions. He and his wife, Charlotte Macnee, also an artist, established an orchid business in Outer Cove, where they built the first geodesic dome house/greenhouse in Newfoundland. For several years they published the nationally distributed Canadian Orchid Journal. Both of these projects were eventually abandoned in favour of spending more time on their art work.
Bell painted in oil or acrylic on masonite and made serigraph prints. He differed from most Newfoundland landscape artists at the time in that he did not focus exclusively on the Newfoundland environment. The dome was stocked with huge exotic plants and small tropical birds. View From My Studio, a series of paintings about his home in Outer Cove, reveals the lush ecosystem in which he lived and worked. Another of his better-known works, Day Haunt of the Siffleur Montagne, was inspired by the Caribbean island of Dominica, which he and his family frequently visited.
Throughout his career, Bell has had much success exhibiting his work internationally as well as throughout Newfoundland and Canada. In 1985, he was commissioned to paint a mural for the West Block of the provincial government's Confederation Building. In 1987, Memorial University Art Gallery organized a retrospective of his work. The same year Bell and Macnee moved to western Scotland. They return occasionally to visit relatives and friends.
In addition to being part of the Art Gallery of Newfoundland and Labrador's Permanent Collection, Bell's work is included in private and public collections such as the National Gallery, Cape Town, South Africa; The Canada Council Art Bank; and Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC.