Bella McGoldrick Turns the Mundane into Masterpieces

bella mcgoldrick Chauffeuse

Artist Bella McGoldrick has an eye for recreating textured details on paper. Chauffeuse, 1971, 10 x 14 inches, pencil on paper. Courtesy of Bella McGoldrick


December 12, 2022

Coming from a background in fashion design, Bella McGoldrick has an instinct for replicating objects on paper. Drawing commissions to hold herself over between jobs in New York City, Bella began developing her signature, blown up, ultra-detailed style by drawing familiar, ephemeral items—lip glosses, Bic lighters, everything bagels, and La Croix cans—often when they’re on their way out of our lives, glorifying them right at the point when they’re considered trash.

“I do like the way things look when they’re worn, because how they wear out shows such a personal interaction. These things have been held, they’ve been crushed; in certain areas there’s overuse,” Bella says. You can’t help but wonder who held the items before they settled under her pencil.

Bella’s favorite subjects are familiar and nostalgic items tied to a particular time and place. In New York she drew the Greek anthora coffee cup, seen on Law and Order nearly as often as on the Chinatown sidewalks, three times. In Las Vegas she drew a slot machine mug found in a crowded pawn shop.

Greek Amphora cup drawing

Courtesy of Bella McGoldrick

The day before her recent drop of hyperreal drawings, Bella is settling into a new, temporary home in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica. She arrived yesterday from Barbados. Next she will go to Mexico, get married, and find her way back to her home Australia. Artifacts and memories from all of these places are sure to find their way into her upcoming work.

None of this travel was planned (she had US visa issues leading up to her deportation last year,) but Bella is rolling with the punches, hauling her paper and colored pencils from country to country. “I’ve become quite travel-friendly. I’ve got it down to a fine art now,” she says. “I barely have any clothes. My bag’s just full of pencils and a hard tube full of rolled up paper. They always think I’m crazy going through security.”

Her recent November 1 drop bears a notable difference from her usual style: rather than enlarging small items, she is exploring shrinking large items to smaller pieces of paper—11 iconic chairs and sofas. Opposed to the usual fleeting pieces of life, the subjects signify a kind of permanence.

In 2020, when she expected to stay in the US long term, Bella had an Eames lounge chair. With all the moving, she no longer has the chair, or any furniture, actually. “I think it came from a real craving for that. If I can’t have it, I’ll draw it,” Bella says. She gave herself a deadline and made as many works as she could, framed them, and sold them on her website—one of her first “drops” since cutting her gallery ties and going independent. They sold out within a day.

She completes the small pieces faster (the larger works take around 200 hours,) allowing her to do comprehensive collections without losing interest. While she draws, she listens to audio books, allowing herself to translate what she sees without focusing too hard on what exactly it is. “The creative part’s all in the conceptualizing and the photographing. Once I have the photo set, I sit down and I just start in one corner and go around and finish it,” Bella says. “There are no artistic decisions once I’m there because I’m following the rules of what I see.”

She bought a pop-up table this morning to expand her workspace. Colored pencils surround her in clear cups organized by color. She has an electric pencil sharpener and an adjustable desk light, both crucial for capturing textures and tiny details. Bella is currently listening to The Third Reich as she works.

I leave her to it.