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Works deliver Bob Zoell's unique, spot-on design

November 18, 2013|By Kirk Silsbee
  • The installation of Bob Zoell's "Spots" at the Boone Family Art Gallery at Pasadena City College.
The installation of Bob Zoell's "Spots"… (Courtesy of Eamon…)

If you should wander into the Boone Art Gallery at Pasadena City College, you'll see a grouping of large paintings that, at first glance, could be the work of a child. So simple are the spare arrangements of different colored circles and ovals in the show “Bob Zoell — Spots,” that they look to be wholly capricious. In truth, they represent a phase in the life of an artist who put in hard work and analytic processes to arrive at that direct form of expression.

Like any good magician, Zoell isn't going to let his audience in on the tricks of his trade, and so he soft-pedals his methodology. “They're 70% design,” says the garrulous Zoell, as he walks around the gallery and gesticulates. “And they're 30% drawing. They have the ‘Bob Zoell attitude': they're whimsical, fun and light.”

Look at these spot paintings and circles and lozenges float randomly like planets … or do they? Back off and you may see a laughing dog or a bemused face in the cosmos. Art critic Peter Clothier has noted “Zoell's paintings speak to us not only out of the quiet of pure aesthetic contemplation, but also out of the disquiet of our human being.”


Zoell was one of a number of young illustrators that emerged in the late 1960s who mined traditional cartoon and animation styles to contemporary art application. With his comic insects and balloon-tired cars, Zoell's work looked like it came out of the Max Fleischer Studio — the home of Betty Boop.

Retired graphic designer and art director Archie Boston puts Zoell into perspective: “I've always admired Bob's commercial illustration work,” he says, from his Los Angeles home. “He was right up there with Charlie White and Dave Willardson. His work was fantastic.”

In 1970, having matriculated through the Saul Bass studio and established himself in the applied art world, Zoell got an itch to return to painting, an early love. “My two favorite artists,” he reveals, “have always been Marcel Duchamp and Jackson Pollock. The Abstract Expressionists were my big influences. Barnett Newman's large zips got me looking at the rectangle and what you can do with it.”

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