ENCINITAS — Local artist Jay Bell feels strongly that there needs to be more spaces for artists to display their work in their communities and his latest installation — in a coffee shop bathroom — is his way of helping to create that space.
Bell said the installation, displayed at Coffee Coffee in Encinitas, came about when he was in there one day admiring the art on the walls and started talking to the woman who curates the space.
“She mentioned that there was a six-month waitlist to show work, which I found disturbing and a reflection on the lack of art spaces in our community,” Bell said. “I asked if I could create an installation in the bathroom to activate that space as an art space and to create more space for local artists.”
Bell said he feels that bathrooms are actually a rather appropriate place for art since, just like art galleries or museums, they are intimate spaces that present opportunities for reflection and self-discovery.
“The prioritization of spaces in our society causes all sorts of troubles, I thought my installation could flatten some of the distance between hierarchical spaces,” he said.
Bell’s installation is composed of two elements. In the first element, Bell created two mirror images based on the ever-crumbling dirt path to Beacons Beach, the local surf spot near Coffee Coffee. The oil paintings on paper are mounted to bulletin boards with a series of small watercolor studies placed below. The two bulletin boards frame an existing bulletin board used for announcements, creating a juxtaposition between the written notes and cards on one bulletin board and the graphic, mildly abstract paintings on the other.
In the second element on an adjacent wall, Bell installed a series of mirrors and reflective materials purchased at local thrift stores that support not-for-profits.
“These not-for-profits provide needed social services in our communities, care for elderly, hospice services and outreach for homeless,” Bell said. “The not-for-profits, mostly with volunteer labor, raise money through thrift stores, taking unwanted items and selling them at a severe discount. I find it ironic and an interesting reflection of our society that the way we provide for the neediest in our society is by selling our almost trash at discount prices.”
Bell, who for the past three years has also served as president of the Encinitas Educational Foundation, said he graduated from art school in the mid-‘90s and has been making artwork since then. In the past few years, he said he has been focusing on getting his work out in the world.
He currently has another installation up in Los Angeles, at the headquarters for the LA Conservation Corps, a youth training program that focuses on careers in conservation. He said for that installation he activated the lobby with paintings from his “Promised Land” series. The installation raises awareness for the corps through a series of events, including a live silk screening of recycled tote bags that he designed and were printed by corps members.
Bell said all the money raised from the bag and art sales will be contributed to the silk-screening program.
Bell, who said his favorite artists are German artists Joseph Bueys and Gerard Richter, and 94-year-old Lebanese-American poet, essayist and visual artist Ethel Adnan, said he has ideas for more installations, including one that he has been trying to figure out for six months.
“An installation requires coordination,” he said, noting that whenever he has an idea he approaches whoever controls the space and asks if he can work with them. “This is an interesting challenge, because the people who control the spaces often do not think about the spaces for art.”
Alyssa Laird, 24, who’s worked at Coffee Coffee for over a year, said she likes the simplicity of Bell’s bathroom installation.
“Jay Bell brings out his inner child and helps to appreciate the simple things through his art,” she said.
Laird, who is an artist herself, said she recently had a customer come in who was interested in Bell’s art and she gave her Bell’s Instagram handle — jaybellart — so she could purchase one of his paintings.
Bell said people have told him that they look at things differently after they see his work, which he said is the highest compliment. “Specifically, they say that they are more aware of how the hills touch the sky, which is a common part of my work,” he said.
Bell said he’s always looking for new spaces and people should keep an eye out for his next project.
“Collaborations are welcome,” he said.
Bell’s installation at Coffee Coffee, at 970 N Coast Highway 101, will be up through Feb. 1. After that, another artist will have a chance to install their work there.
Tawny McCray is a native San Diegan and graduate of San Diego State University. She has known she wanted to be a journalist since writing for her Jr. High School newspaper in 1991. She has worked at The Star News in Chula Vista, The San Diego Union Tribune and ABC 10News San Diego. She has recently freelanced for Scripps Ranch News and The Poway Eagle and is a longtime freelancer with creators.com. She is working on authoring books with her twin sister, Nyla. She and her husband have two kids and live in South Park.