Russell Bell (1958 – 2022), an appreciation
We remember illustrator Russell Bell, whose artistry helped define the Wallpaper* aesthetic
Few illustrators can claim to have had as much impact on the aesthetics of Wallpaper* as Russell Bell, who passed away at the end of March after a short battle with cancer. Bell’s purist, uncluttered approach lent authority to every subject he covered, from architecture to future technology.
His meticulous maps were a staple of the magazine’s Navigator city views, his illustrations were the focus of many articles, and his work was in high demand by everyone from developers to architects.
Top, map of Hong Kong and Macao (from the May 2006 issue), from a series completed to accompany the Wallpaper* Trip articles. Above is a detail of a Richard Rogers-themed London bike tour, created as an additional digital edition for subscribers (July 2013 issue)
Bell’s maps updated the splendor and artistry of ancient cartography with the meticulous clarity of digital methods, creating illustrations that were intricate works of art as well as sources of accurate information.
You could offer any cartographic file to Bell and he would turn it into a landscape that demanded further investigation; his cycling map of London buildings by Richard Rogers, commissioned for the architect’s 80th birthday, is a classic example.
Above, Bell designed the July/August 2005 Wallpaper* cover. Above, he illustrated the final page of the Fast Forward series – imagining the forward-looking inventions of young designers – which ran from 2004 to 2006 ( photo from October 2005 issue)
Bell was perpetually on our art director’s speed dial, especially when we needed a complicated subject matter turned into a deceptively simple graphic. He blew up axonometry, brought futuristic concepts to life, and ordered the world’s great cities. Above all, Bell’s work helped bolster Wallpaper’s burgeoning reputation in the design industry.
Tony Chambers, whose Wallpaper* career spanned from 2003 to 2018, including four years as creative director and 11 as editor, remembers Bell as “one of the best visual communicators – and human beings – whom I had the pleasure of knowing”. . Russell’s signature work for Wallpaper* was a cornerstone of the magazine’s success. Like the work, its modesty and calm belied a sophistication and technical rigor that remain unequalled.
Above, food truck from the December 2008 issue of Wallpaper*. Above is Bell’s rendition of Microsoft Home, from the May 2005 issue
As well as Wallpaper* and other magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, Bell worked closely with some of the leading creative agencies of the time, including Pentagram. A long-time resident of the Barbican Center in London, he has drawn his appreciation of modern architectural culture and London’s historical heritage into many of his works.
Bell also had a long-standing fascination with transportation design, and his crisp renderings of cars, planes and trains lent a burst of technical authenticity to fun, casual items like Monocle‘s ‘Me and my motorcade’. In 2008, he designed a food truck for Wallpaper*, a commission that involved researching all kinds of eclectic vehicles. He also ventured into typeface design and helped shape graphic identities for Adidas, Microsoft, American Express, as well as a number of major museums.
It should be noted that Bell’s skills did not depend on the use of computers at all. Some of his early works, like the iconic axonometric image of the Empire State Building—still a popular poster—were created entirely with traditional analog means, a technical pen, and a set square. The design of the skyscraper alone took him a year. The advent of the computer may have sped things up (helpful given Wallpaper’s relentless deadlines), but in the end it was just another tool, the one that helped Bell make the crisp perfection that has become his trademark. Dominic Murray-Bell, Art Director of Wallpaper, describes Bell as “a truly unique illustrator in a world where image making is so often about what’s ‘in’. His technical ability and attention to detail coupled with a clean and modern aesthetics have made his work timeless and beautiful.
Bell is survived by his partner, Melissa Price, and their daughter. Price, senior graphic designer at Cartlidge Levene, shared Bell’s love for maps, graphic art and the elegant presentation of information. At Wallpaper*, the strength of his vision and the precision of his line will be forever missed. §