For her eleventh solo show in Seattle since 1990, 44-year-old Deborah Bell continued to extend the range of imagery in her abstract paintings. The paintings exposed considerable strengths and nagging weaknesses. Except for a few instances, she has progressed away from the central-focus compositions of a decade ago. Elements, usually her signature circles and ovals, are now more dispersed, but fall prey to a glaring flaw: everything is still set upon a monochrome background. The smaller studies, averaging 12 inches square, like Dreaming Buddha (all works are 2010) contain more intensity than many of the larger works, perhaps because one looks more closely at the reined-in ovals, circles, and concentric pools of lines. More promising, the rectangular mixed-media and collage on panels, such as Another Galaxy, imply a slightly deeper space due to a lighter orange band at its base. Nearly seven feet wide, this work and East Indian Inscape and Star Song for O suggest Asian scroll paintings, especially with the regrettable interpolation of nine little birds in the latter.
Bell is better off without representational imagery including the ladders that appear occasionally. Some Kind of Heaven is a larger (4 by 3 feet) extension of Dreaming Buddha, but with greater variations of the bubble shapes and curly black pubic hair. Mapping and Floating Worlds demonstrate greater formal control as well. The latter's single kidney-bean shape surrounded by stacks of blobby circles is (again) placed dead center. Mapping works best. Its pale yellow background flickers intermittently and numerous white specks are connected by dotted lines as in an astronomical map. Taking this one step farther could solve all Bell's issues: all she has to do now is connect the lines between the dots and, voila, line becomes a player along with color, space and shape. Without becoming drawing, line could play a new role for Bell.