A deep fried oil on canvas, a classical bust constructed out of sugar and steel, an installation made from noodles submerged in a tank: the delightfully varied artwork of Gala Bell defies classification, pushing the limits of what art is. The alchemy of matter lies at the centre of Bell’s practice as she explores material combinations and methods that expand the methods of art making. Studio come kitchen/ lab, Gala creates new processes, meanings and possibilities.
Gala Bell, Pomegranates, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.
The most intriguing artistic process of Bell’s is her deep-fried paintings. Deep-frying is in fact a ritualistic purging, originating from missionaries in Portugal who used it as a way to fulfill fasting and abstinence rules around the ember days, Quattuor Tempora. It travelled to the port of Nagasaki and detonated as a popular street food. Hot oil, refried again and again, glows like gold on the surface of Gala’s works and is just one of the ways she enacts material transformation. The process of deep-frying also, surprisingly, shares ingredients with painting: egg yolk tempura, linseed oil mixed with pigments. Through this process Gala also passes commentary on the defined distinctions of taste: ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture as well as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ taste. One might consider an oil painting far too important to deface with being deep-fried. Social inequalities are reinforced and perpetuated on the basis of cultural distinction, whilst invisible market forces lead us to a cultural condescending of some tastes above others. Therefore, by deep-frying a cultural object, such as an oil painting, Gala revels in the cross over between stereotypical ‘high’ and ‘low’ tastes.
Gala Bell, Fry Up, 2021. Courtesy of the artist.
In Supernatural Infatuation, Bell submerges oversized noodles in a tank, lit from within by LED lights. Yet again the distinctions of studio/ kitchen/ lad are evaded in favor of scientific artistry. Installation or chemical experiment, it might be difficult to tell if one were to encounter this work. However, Gala sees these more experimental works as just one part of her practice. Gala is also a teacher, creates more ‘commodified’ works such as paintings and creates silk items one can purchase. Clearly, Gala delights in the thrill and challenge of specialising in numerous different mediums and materials.
Gala Bell, Supernatural Infatuation, 2018. Courtesy of the artist.
Indeed, materials: their textures, appearance, colours and how they compliment or contrast against each other, is a great inspiration to Gala. If ever in a rut Gala takes inspiration from watching someone else make something. However, escaping a rut is easy Gala confesses, as she has utilised so many different techniques and methods of making throughout her artistic career.
Courtesy of the artist.
Despite her mastery over many different materials and artistic skills, painting is Gala’s current favourite medium to work with. However, simultaneously, Gala favors other viscous, less conventional, materials such as motor oil, silicone, hair gels, sugars and syrups: anything that can be poured and will reflect and interact with light in a specific way. Gala says: “So much of my early painting work looked at creating that effect of light, it eventually came through in the sculptural work also. I love the way that artists like Dahn Vo, Rebecca Warren, Michael Dean, Samara Scott create from the mess of experience. The play and interaction between materials is really exciting and it offers a different way of thinking and feeling an artwork that pure painting cannot. But there is also a sentiment that painting offers that is unmatchable compared to a readymade, so it really depends on which way the pendulum swings.”
Gala Bell, Equilibrium, 2020. Courtesy of the artist.
Varied and experimental: nothing is out of bounds for Gala. Gala describes her practice as “transitional: a passage or changeover to something else”. Moving back and forth, ideas constantly morph and evolve, clashing or contradicting; Gala revels in the unpredictability: not knowing what might take shape.
A graduate of the Royal College of Art and Guilds City Art School, Bell was recently announced as one of Ashurst’s Art Prize 2021 shortlisted artists. Bell has also been selected for inclusion in exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the London Design Festival; The Design Museum, London; and the Kunsthalle am Hamburger Platz, Berlin.
Words by Olivia Wilson