Larry Bell: Light Knots
Larry Bell, 6x6 An Improvisation,1989–2014 (Clear glass, gray glass, and glass coated with Inconel; forty panels, each 72 x 72 x 0 1/2 in). Photography by White Cube (George Darrel).

This article was first published online by Wallpaper* Magazine on 13 Jul 2015

Larry Bell has been exploring the aesthetics of light and surface for over five decades. In that time, the New Mexico-based artist, who is now 75, has produced a masterful body work comprising sculpture, installations and collages that harness light with serene and haunting effect. A new exhibition, ‘2D-3D: Glass & Vapor’ at White Cube Mason’s Yard, shows several stages of this oeuvre as well as new works.

The distinctive shimmering texture of Bell’s work stems from his discovery in the 1960s of a process called ‘thin film deposition’, whereby surfaces are coated with metal alloys in a vacuum chamber. This method alters the way light is reflected or allowed to pass through sheets of glass or plastic, creating illusions of depth and colourful mists that expand into the gallery space.

Larry Bell: NVD#24 (left) and NVD#28 (right), both 2004, (Black Arches Paper coated with aluminum and silicon monoxide, 57 x 41 in.). Photography by White Cube (George Darrel)
Larry Bell: NVD#23 (left) and NVD#28 (right), 2004, (Black Arches Paper coated with aluminum and silicon monoxide, 57 x 41 in). Photography by White Cube (George Darrel)

Bell places experimentation and discovery at the center of his practice. ‘Control’, he says, ‘is a state of mind, not a physical reality. To me everything is experimental in the studio and that is how the work grows.’ Bell is drawn to the medium of light by its spontaneity, observing that ‘light is free… in one way or another it is like time, it is everywhere at once’.

At the White Cube show, one can see the evolution of Bell’s work from minimalist structures into arrangements of six-foot glass panels, whose exchanges of light occupy an entire room. There are also dazzling two-dimensional Vapor Drawings, as well as his new Light Knot sculptures – curving ribbons of polyester film, suspended like figures frozen mid-dance.

With many younger artists interested in the possibilities of light, Bell’s work currently seems more relevant than ever. He is inspired by Sasha Vom Dorp and Marc Fichou, artists who have, he says, ‘taken a serious step into the unknown, and brought out a sample of the unknown for me to see’.