Through cryptic messages, dark imagery and bold colors, the late artist, filmmaker and terrorism expert J. Bowyer Bell put his images of terrorism to canvas which will be the new exhibit, "Terror: A Right Brain Left Brain View."
An accomplished filmmaker and author of several books on terrorism, including "Besieged," "The Long War: Israel and the Arabs since 1946" and "The Secret Army: The IRA 1916-1970," Bell’s paintings will be on display at Brenau University through Jan. 13.
The exhibit, on loan from Bell’s friend and guest curator Roberto Mitrotti, includes mixed media paintings in a range of sizes, depicting topics such as the Holocaust and even wires simulating bombs. Mitrotti described Bell as an extraordinary painter with a creative passion kept secret from the outside world.
The moving exhibit is something that is not only timely, said Tonya Cribb Curran, director of Brenau University’s galleries, but it is also something that can add to the dialogue in the university community.
"With our world situation, I thought it had a broad appeal," she said. "Not only is this an important piece of artwork, but we felt like it touches on a lot of different areas," including fine art, history, philosophy and religion.
Bell, who died in 2003 after publishing his last book, "Murders on the Nile, The World Trade Center and Global Terror," worked for the CIA and at one point infiltrated the Irish Republican Army in Ireland. His paintings reflect a range of terrorism-related subjects, and his years of terrorism-related work dating back to the 1960s — Bell had been held captive in the Middle East and kicked out of Kenya — gave the artist plenty of fuel to fire his artistic passion.
In an opening event Tuesday evening, Mitrotti mentioned that a lot of Bell’s paintings are on small canvases. This was because they were easily transportable, he said, in case Bell found himself in a country that was under siege.
A history student with a Fullbright fellowship, Bell moved to study in Italy with then up-and-coming artist and former classmate Cy Twombly. Bell’s art began to take on subtle influences from Twombly’s angsty, expressionistic style. While continuing his research on the Italian mafia and Islamic discontent, Bell began churning out mixed media works comprising oils, collages and imbedded objects like wires and batteries.
In a press release, Mitrotti said of Bell’s work, "history is commentated and analyzed in the classroom (by day), and at night the same history becomes an emotional outpouring of pigment, photos and objects on canvas. He made strong, powerful art out of the tragedies of our time."
The exhibit opened Tuesday with a screening of Bell’s 1975 film "The Secret Army," about the origins and evolution of the IRA. A gallery reception will be held at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 8 and is open to the public.