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In conversation: Mark Lawson Bell

In this interview, delve into the captivating journey and innovative creations of Mark Lawson Bell, a visionary artist whose story unfolds from the rural landscapes of Cornwall to the vibrant streets of London and beyond. Discover how his childhood as a naturalist laid the groundwork for a multifaceted career spanning photography, sculpture, and creative direction. Join us as we explore the inspirations, challenges, and triumphs that have shaped his remarkable trajectory in the world of art and design."

Joana Alarcão

22 de fevereiro de 2024

Your childhood in rural Cornwall sounds like a rich tapestry of natural exploration. How did those early experiences as a naturalist influence your perspective as an artist today?

To observe. To see. In the woods I was looking for the smallest things; identifying what had eaten hazelnuts by the teeth marks scribed on the shells, looking for unusual lichen flourishing in micro worlds, or finding the smallest skull. I remember carpets of rhododendron petals in May, the incessant drone of water falling on rocks that was my soundtrack along the river, or exploring old tin mines on the moor. Walking for miles, often accompanied by my wing women, a Cheshire cat, ‘Mitzi’. It was the excitement of not knowing, and the excitement of finding, that kept one foot in front of the other.

Your perspective on finding objects and seeing them as being found, ‘as if lost’ suggests a unique connection. Can you share a specific instance where an object spoke to you, and how did it guide the creative process in re-imagining its purpose or significance?

Last summer I found a model ship, a galleon, in a charity shop. It’s old and beautifully made. I removed the masts, with their sails, and mounted each of the three on 8ft tall, very narrow plinths. I wrote a poem to accompany, a story reflective of a lover, and how somebody can inspire, and be one’s muse. This is it:

Replete, strained and stretched, 

Filled sails,

Your breath bears voice, breeding words,

Exhalation blowing journey’s way

Your wind warms my still,

And your calm’s not quiet,

A whisper on mirrored floor,

This trip, this gift of you 

And I never tire of the butterflies,

As fragments of cloth tethered by hair,

Kissing floating water,

Flutter scraps on jagged air,

Morse coded memories,

Keeping time, recording my me,

Feeding off hopes, 

Dancing with drops of the sea

Your breath, your laughter,

This wind of love,

Where it’s taking me,

Serene as a dove, or steady headed gale, 

I travel your sea, under masted sail,

This gift from you,

To everything that’s me

Sculpture by Mark Lawson Bell
You live here by Mark Lawson Bell. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Bell

The concept of ‘You live here’ is intriguing. Can you share the story of how you found the dock leaf by the river and what drew you to it as a subject for this piece?

It was a fine Autumn Day, and we’d been swimming in the river. Being that time of year, the plant had retracted, leaving skin-thin, filigreed leaves. Peppered with holes, made by dock beetles, I was mesmerised by their fragility and strength, like the thinnest leather, resting now in long grass, their work done.

I imagined each hole as a window in a tower, a window created by a formative memory. The leaf, as a building, each one unique, like us, a person’s life condensed into 3 seasons, Spring, Summer and Autumn’s fall. How, as we progress through life, more apertures are created.

Your mention of ‘dressing objects with a story or leaving them naked of words yet keeping them warm under a new light’ hints at a delicate balance. How do you decide when to add narrative layers to the objects you find?

Most of my pieces have a story, a tale I want to tell.

I don’t write when the object speaks for itself, or indeed when the title of the piece opens the door of belief. 

Sculpture by Mark Lawson Bell
Those days of you by Mark Lawson Bell. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Bell

In the piece ‘Those Days Of You’, the resilient and resinous heartwood stands in stark contrast to the decayed outer layers. How does the resilience of the heartwood play into the broader message you aim to communicate in your artwork?

It was all that was left. The tree, or that remained, was ‘useless’. Beetles and fungi having consumed the outer cambium, leaving the inedible, inner heartwood. As with man-made objects I find, their use too is over. The passage of time and accompanying degradation has revealed a new life, for me to happen upon.

What is the significance of the words and poems that accompany some of your works?

I hope it brings light to what had been an unsung, discarded object. I re-imagine their reality, and I hope the words, the stories I conjure, bring people into my world.

Sculpture by Mark Lawson Bell
You live here by Mark Lawson Bell. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Bell

After years of being involved in various creative ventures, you’ve returned to concentrate on your own art. How do you see your past experiences shaping the narrative of your current artistic journey?

It’s interesting, my last venture, for the longest time, was as a creative director. I worked on many a project, with many a client. I adored creating experiences, be it one-night events for ABSOLUT, or permanent interventions in restaurants such as ‘sketch’ in London. A moving experience can occur from the smallest thing, a catalyst that often causes a soft memory to rise, heated and present, to the surface of one’s mind.

I like what I call the ‘70% effect’, when you don’t finish the narrative, to leave a comma at the end, not a full stop.

As example, at Sketch (which houses among other offerings, a 3* Michelin restaurant) the cocktail napkins simply have a hand written phone number (of the venue). Innocently putting that in your pocket at the end of an evening has gotten many people in trouble with their partners. We also used to drop (anonymous) strung conkers in people’s coat checked pockets

I love inviting people to finish the stories I started.

Do you hope to provoke a certain reaction or mindset in your audience through your work?

To smile, to wonder, to see the seemingly mundane with another eye. 

Sculpture by Mark Lawson Bell
Since some time by Mark Lawson Bell. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Bell.

In your opinion, what is the function of art in today’s contemporary atmosphere?

To quote Paul Klee - ‘Art does not replicate what’s visible, it makes things visible’.

What leaves someone cold boils the blood of others. In between those two pillars are 48 shades of grey, where a piece, ancient or made yesterday, causes a tangible reaction, joy, wonder, or simply to confuse one’s mother.

What message or call to action would you like to leave our readers with?

To not forget one’s inner child, if you don’t know it already, it’s in you. Let it out occasionally, it likes to hang out on a shoulder. It has a good sense of direction.

Know more about the artist here.

Cover image:

Mother & her Daughters by Mark Lawson Bell. Image courtesy of Mark Lawson Bell.

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Born in 1969, Mark grew up in rural Cornwall. 

A childhood naturalist, Mark spent his formative years in the woods that surrounded the family home. His tiny bedroom was a trove of tanks of the living, bottles and jars of the dead and dissected owl pellets from the barn.

At 16, bored of preserving and pickling, Bell picked up a camera.  

At 18 he travelled to London to chase the dream of a photographer.

After a few years, with an agent and work published in Blitz and Vogue, he fell in love with sculpture, making pieces from found objects procured from the streets and skips of Hackney. Commissions came from individuals such as Alan Ayckbourn and institutions including The Royal National Theatre. Mark exhibited at the ICA and he created an installation at EARTH, Art of a changing world at The Royal Academy. His career morphed to become a Creative Director. He went onto found two design agencies, Warm Rain and latterly Mark Lawson Bell Studio, under the moniker of Plinth Creative. Their client lists citing some of the world’s top brands, from ABSOLUT, to Veuve Clicquot. They won a design award for aPringle of Scotland interior, and featured in many design books. He was theArtistic Director of ‘sketch’ in London. By all accounts the most creative collection of restaurants and bars under one roof in Mayfair.

He is now concentrating on his own work again.  He lives and works in Hastings, East Sussex.  


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