20th Century British & Contemporary Art
Castlegate House Gallery

Bill Bell

Biography
Bill Bell Bill Bell

William G Bell 1928 - 2006

William G Bell was born in Barrow-in-Furness on April 20th 1928. Following the death of his mother when he was just ten, he was raised by his grandmother. Due to financial constraints, Bill left school at 14 and went to work at the then Vickers Shipyard in Barrow.

Always interested in drawing, Bill began experimenting with painting in his late teens, soon gaining an interest not in the nearby Lake District, but in the immediate world around him, be it working or leisure.

As a capstan operator and machine shop foreman, Bill had hands on experience of the industrial process. The variety of skills and the environment in which they were employed proved an endless source of inspiration. He was
fascinated by industry, having a lifelong interest in mining, shipbuilding, transport and heavy industries.

When away from Barrow, be it day trips or family holidays, Bill always sought out subjects to sketch for possible future paintings on his return home.
On a holiday to Glasgow for example, he journeyed to the Gorbals, to capture the unique architecture and atmosphere of the place. As with many of the
paintings in the exhibition, the painting of the Gorbals will be exhibited with the preparatory sketches completed on such a trip.

When back home in Barrow, Bill continued to be inspired by what he encountered every day; the shipyards, the pigeon pens, the back streets of Askam. All were a constant source of inspiration.

The shop floor at Vickers proved to be a somewhat fertile ground for young artists. Not only was Bill painting, whenever he could, what he saw about him, he was also working with a young apprentice, Keith Tyson, who was to later become a Turner Prize winner.

Bill had other interests. He was a talented engineer, an enthusiastic owner of three classic cars and an avid bibliophile. Painting was, however, his first love and abiding passion throughout his whole adult life.

Bill mostly worked in oils, occasionally in watercolour, pastel and charcoal. He was a founder member and President of the Barrow Society of Artists, a member of the Lakes Artists Society and was widely exhibited, from the 1950s until his death in 2006, including the Royal Academy London, the Royal Scottish Academy, Abbot Hall, the Harris Museum, Preston and the Manchester Academy of Fine Arts. One of Bill’s paintings, Bath Time, chosen by L S Lowry, was even filmed for a BBC television programme in 1958.

Bill’s paintings are instantly recognisable. His subject matter displays little of the romanticism of many of those painting Cumbria, both then and now. At times, purposefully naive, always honest. Bill has left a legacy; a record of how life was in Cumbria and beyond from the 1950s onwards.