An exhibition of oil paintings and studies by Eric Bellis (aka Rico Bell)
STATEMENT BY THE ARTIST
‘California is a Garden of Eden
A paradise to live in or see
But, believe it or not
You won’t find it so hot
If you aint got the doh re me’
So sang Woody Guthrie in reference to the plight and subsequent migration to ‘the promised land’ of California by the victims of the great dust storms that swept through the Midwest and Southwest of North America in the 1930s.
California is still ‘The Promised Land’ to many of the migrant farm workers arriving there today but as Woody’s lyric implies, it is still an empty ‘promise’. Lack of employment protection rights or health care, and exposure to poisonous pesticides, are just some of the occupational hazards that await the majority of men and women who come to work in the fields for meagre, and often below subsistence level, wages.
Despite my subsequent knowledge of the above, when I first began this series of paintings I did not do so with the intention of making any overtly political statements. Rather, as with the paintings in my first solo show at this gallery, ‘The Fruits of Labour’, (so long ago now that I’m too embarrassed to recall) I was motivated by the visual juxtaposition of the human form at work within the landscape that, this time, happened to be in the fields of the central coast area of California. The possibilities of creating a series of paintings using these observations as a starting point enabled me to find a connection to my previous work that I had been searching for since leaving the UK some years before. As my observations progressed, however, I began to question the working conditions these people endure and why the workers, in general, wear certain types of clothing such as hooded sweaters and scarves that leave very little of their skin exposed. The first and most obvious reason would be as protection from the hot sun, but why tie a scarf around the face ‘bandit’ style, I wondered. It took very little research to learn that they were attempting to protect themselves from contact with, or inhalation of, the poisonous pesticides and other chemicals that are sprayed on the crops. Proper protective wear is, no doubt, prohibitively expensive for one surviving on minimal wages and it would seem that no laws are enforced, or even exist, to require employers to provide such wear.
My awareness of the above has inevitably had a subconscious effect on the way these paintings have developed but I still maintain that I intend no specific political message with them. I believe there is a visual beauty and harmony to be found in all things and I hope that my representation of these hard working people captures that, but also holds a viewer’s attention long enough to allow further thought to consider these workers’ existence within the landscape of our world.
No doubt the way in which you, the viewer, interpret what you see in this body of work will be affected by your own beliefs, preferences and knowledge. But, rest assured, I would never be happy with a painting or, indeed, deem it complete, until there are ‘questions’ within it that have occurred without my conscious intention and only as part of the process of creating the finished work. I do not have definitive answers to these questions so, however you choose to view the work in this show I hope you’ll find it to be an enjoyable and worthwhile experience.
Finally, I would like to note that credit for the title of this show must go to your host and gallery owner, Thomas Masters, whom I would like to thank for not forgetting about me during all the years since my last show here-- and for finally making this show happen.