Lots of kids want to be artists when they grow up, but many eventually shift to other careers. Rachel Bell, TYL ’17, refused to let go of her childhood dream. She took art classes throughout her life, and was steered by a high school art teacher toward art school.
Coloring outside the lines
Temple’s Tyler School of Art and Architecture was an ideal choice due to its proximity to her hometown in the Lehigh Valley, as well as its affordability, location in a big city and strong reputation. The painting department at Tyler had an immediate and strong impact on Bell and her work.
“I make this joke, like, the Tyler painting department ‘untaught’ me how to draw,” she said. “In high school, I felt like I needed to do everything representationally, and then I learned to do more thought-provoking abstract work.”
Like a Roman candle
As an Italian American, Bell had always wanted to visit Italy, and was given that chance during her junior year when she enrolled in Temple Rome. The semesterlong study abroad program proved transformational.
“Walking around Rome, looking at the architecture and the interactions between the older and modern buildings, influenced my color palette and my compositions,” she said.
Bell’s subject matter began to shift from the landscapes she’d been previously focused on toward abstracts centered on themes of fragility and deterioration. The ubiquitous flower stalls on Rome’s street corners also inspired her to incorporate floral motifs, which may still be found in her work today.
These experiences coalesced in Bell’s senior show in the spring of 2017, titled Give Me Flowers. Her exhibit included collage, dried flowers, fabric, installations, floral arrangements and still life paintings of flowers.
The fascination with flowers Bell developed in Rome spurred her to take floral design classes at Temple’s Ambler campus following her graduation. Today, she applies her design skills as a florist at Bloomie’s Flower Shop in Easton, Pennsylvania, and the running of her own small business making arrangements and wreaths with lifelike silk flowers.
She also serves as assistant director at the prestigious Bethlehem House Gallery, where she co-curates immersive exhibits each season, and she rents a studio in the Banana Factory, an art center in Bethlehem, where she is a frequent exhibitor. With shows lined up well into 2023, Bell is creating her life’s masterpiece, one brushstroke at a time.
Her current work, both in painting and floral design, employs bold use of color, organic silhouettes and lush, vegetal shapes.
“The work I’m doing now is an extension of all the ideas I’ve had before,” she said. “When I make my art, I want it to draw an emotion from people and for them to be able to connect with it.”