Photo provided by Be Still Photography (Devon Sleeth).

Local Artist Shares His Work With First In-Person Exhibit

Vondel Bell, a Wheeling Park High School graduate and standout athlete, has a lot more to him than what meets the eye. While Bell, 27, spent most of his life planning on playing in the NFL, he decided to pick up a paintbrush instead of a football. 

This athlete turned artist is showcasing his talent for the first time with a formal exhibit at the Towngate Theatre this Spring. While Bell shares much of his work online, he’s looking forward to having his work presented in a gallery where people can see his work up close and in person. 

“For my exhibit there really isn’t a theme. I just wanted to give people the chance of seeing my art in person instead of on social media,” said Bell. 

“You get a different feel for artwork once you see it in person and I’m just hoping everyone comes out and appreciates what it takes to be a full-time artist.”

Bell believes that there is an artist in everyone, even if art exhibits aren’t at the top of your list of things to do. He especially believes children have the drive to pursue artistry and that it can influence their lives in more ways than one. 

“I think art can impact the community in many ways. It can give kids hope. All kids are artists,” said Bell.  “The problem is how to remain one once we’ve grown up. I think everyone would agree that art murals brighten up the city. Imagine walking around downtown and seeing colorful art on the buildings like they have in New York. I think it would bring people out of the house and into the streets of downtown, which in return would help all the small businesses in the area.”

A painting of Snoop Dogg who was recently a performer in the Super Bowl Half Time Show.

Bell recalls growing up being exposed to art at home and in the classroom, which he believes was vital to his love of art today. 

“My first experience with art that I can vividly remember is my grandma Connie drawing a snowman for me,” said Bell. 

“My actual first piece of art that I can remember doing was in kindergarten art class. We had to create an Indian on this old piece of paper using coffee as the medium.”

Painting wasn’t always the end goal for Bell. His dream of playing in the NFL seemed to take the front seat until his life came to a serious crossroads.

“What drew me into becoming a full-time artist was getting cut from some NFL teams — Browns and Colts. After that happened, I had to figure out my next step,” said Bell 

“I knew I loved art, so I put all my apples in one basket and made things happen. A lot of people told me I should work a real job because art doesn’t pay the bills. I’d rather be struggling and happy with my job, than be miserable hating my job.”

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Have you spotted this mural? It’s located on the top of the McLure Hotel in Downtown Wheeling.

Because Bell focused on football for the majority of his life, he had little in the way of formal training in the arts. His creations come from pure talent and perseverance. 

“What makes my art unique is that I’m 100% self-taught. I just started using oils a year and a half ago and the progression I’ve made is unbelievable,” said Bell. 

“I mostly paint portraits because I love the challenge of painting a person. Portrait painting is the hardest in my opinion because you can’t really make a mistake on a person’s face the same way you can with a landscape or cartoon. If you make a mistake on a portrait then there’s a high chance the portrait won’t look like the person you are painting.”

  • A painting by Bell of Christopher Wallace, also known as The Notorious B.I.G.

Bell attests that as an artist you need to appreciate and recognize fellow artists. One of his favorites is neo-expressionist Jean-Michel Basquiat, who rose to prominence from an unknown street artist to one of the most revered artists of his time in the 1980s.

“He [Basquiat] was one of the first black artists I heard of and his art is awe-inspiring,” said Bell. “He paints very loose with no real structure and it’s amazing how his paintings come out at the end. Many people say it’s just scribbling, but if you actually look at the painting you will see a story from beginning to end.”

Bell’s tale as a football player turned artist is inspiring. When one dream ends, another dream takes its place and finding joy along the way is what’s important. 

“I genuinely love art with no hidden agenda behind doing it,” said Bell.

“I don’t really hope to change anything in the world with my pieces. If things happen because of my art, that would be great, but that’s not my purpose for doing art.”

If you want to see Bell’s work for yourself, his exhibit at Oglebay Institute’s Towngate Theatre will begin on March 4 and will be on display until May 22. The gallery is free and open to the public and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The exhibition opening will be held on Friday, March from 6 – 8 p.m.

You can check out all of Vondel’s work by following him on Instagram @v0nde1.

• With a background in journalism and being a true Wheeling native, Jessica Broverman was destined to work with Weelunk. She holds a degree in journalism with a minor in criminal justice and works with Williams Lea Tag as a legal proofreader. When she isn’t typing away for Weelunk or WLT, she is enjoying a coffee at one of her many favorite spots in Wheeling, spending time with friends, or having fun with her husband Zachary and their two cats, Proctor and Max.