Photorealism exploded onto the art scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Recognized as an extension of Pop Art, it merged traditional painting techniques with a Pop sensibility. As a result, the movement's leaders, including Charles Bell, Richard Estes, Ralph Goings and Robert Cottingham, created a highly polished and hyper-realistic product whose imagery is characterized by its clarity, accuracy and immediacy of detail. Although the artists wholeheartedly accepted the photograph as a source, the movement marked the return of draftsmanship to contemporary art, while simultaneously incorporating a critical, formal approach more recently seen in Conceptual art.
Charles Bell is best known for matching his technical ability and precision with sumptuous subject matter. The visual impact of his work is derived from his use of scale, composition and a strong palette, in addition to his interest in light. Strongly influenced by masters like Vermeer and Rembrandt, Bell set out to create modern images using traditional painting techniques. His subject matter was often determined by its appearance when viewed through an extreme close-up. In the artist's words, "By radically changing the size of everyday objects we can get into them and more easily explore their surfaces and construction -their reality" (L. Meisel, Photorealism at the Millenium, New York: Harry Abrams, 2002, p. 56).
Bell's Gumball paintings are among his most famous compositions, dating from the artist's most productive and successful decade, and Gumball IX is one of the earliest and most accomplished examples from this seminal series. It clearly demonstrates his virtuosity handling light which is skillfully refracted and reflected off the objects' surfaces. Bell records every intricate detail of his subject, freezing the image in time. His use of extremely bright colors and glazes creates a glossy surface which adds depth to the work as well as emphasizes the appeal of a time-honored, favorite American treat. As Louis Meisel writes, "The best photorealist paintings provide us with awe-inspiring beauty and cunning perceptions about our culture our time. Rooted in the most concrete loyalty to the here and now, these paintings transcend their own factuality and achieve timelessness" (Ibid, p. 22).