Fleeing political violence, Zimbabwean Rozanne Bell turned her rebellious energy into a successful painting career
The adopted daughter of English parents who had relocated to Zimbabwe, Rozanne Bell grew up in a strict, almost Victorian but happy, environment.
But the rebellious nature that emerged during her teenage years eventually led to expulsion from school.
Recognising her daughter’s need for an outlet, Rozanne’s mother, an accomplished artist herself, encouraged her daughter to explore painting as a means of expression. It turned out to be a bit of smart parental thinking, as a natural flair swiftly emerged.
Combining talent with hard work and dedication, 16-year-old Rozanne began to forge what became a successful career as an artist, resulting in exhibitions at home in South Africa and also sales in the USA.
Under Robert Mugabe’s premiership, the political situation in Zimbabwe grew increasingly violent and eventually, in 2002, it compelled Rozanne to flee the country, leaving behind all the family’s possessions – a daunting challenge for anyone, let alone a mother with five children.
Under such circumstances, a fresh start in a new country required immense strength and resilience, qualities Rozanne appears to possess in abundance. She recently described herself on social media as “storming into my studio like a supercharged Duracell battery.” – it’s an accurate depiction.
Her gregarious nature, her relentless energy and her enthusiasm for art all proved necessary when she set about forging a new reputation in the UK. The bright and quirky birds and animals she had been painting in South Africa were not well received here. She had to deveop a new style and find new sales outlets.
Each rejection just fired her up: ‘If you don’t fight, you don’t get anywhere.
‘You have to listen to what the people want. I just want to paint what people love.’
With limited resources, Rozanne sourced frames from local car boot sales. After a year in Dorset a local pub agreed to display her work.
Shortly afterward, a Bournemouth agent took her on and Rozanne began to paint the animal characters which found her an initial niche market.
She continued to work hard, reacting to customers’ wishes. ‘I had to keep pushing. I had children to feed and bills to pay.’
Rozanne’s style and subject matter are constantly evolving. She has built a reputation, with her vivid colours and expressive brush-strokes, for her flamboyant, mixed media works. She still draws inspiration from her home country’s colours, flowers and animals, but adds her own contemporary, often humorous, touches, almost always working from her imagination but using a vast array of both fresh and silk flowers for reference.
Recent works reveal a love of the Dorset countryside and the coastal landscapes of Cornwall. Her trademark lush curtain of flowers is nearly always present.
Rozanne is not interested in producing limited editions or offering mass market prints, preferring established followers to own an original painting at an affordable price:
‘I dream of making happy paintings that people can afford,’ she says.
Thoughtfully, she produces some smaller, less expensive paintings for loyal followers – of which she has many, with more than 20,000 on Facebook alone.
She works on multiple paintings simultaneously, allowing her to develop complexity of layers and to incorporate a variety of media into her creations.
A distinctive aspect of Rozanne’s work is her use of resin finishes. By applying resin coatings to her paintings, she adds depth and vibrancy to the final pieces. It creates a glossy and transparent layer that enhances the colours and textures, creating a gutsy visual impact. It is a messy process – she showed me the dedicated room stacked with wooden racks of paintings in the process of receiving different layers. Finishing touches might include metallic paint splashes, or highlights for a daisy petal.
A fresh perspective
Rozanne is a dedicated and compulsive painter: she is in her studio near Sturminster Newton from early morning until the evening. She’s quick to point out that essential support comes from her daughter who ‘runs my life and my brain!’
As for every artist, the lockdown period in 2020 provided a different perspective and slower sales. Rozanne is beginning to re-evaluate her work and looking at taking a different direction. She wants to spend more time with her young grandson.
The continuous evolution of an artist’s style and technique can lead to the refinement and enhancement of their unique artistic vision.
As Rozanne explores new techniques and subject matter, she brings a fresh perspective to her work while retaining the elements that make her art so recognisable and distinctive. As she says, ‘I was so lucky to have been born with an imagination.’
Her nearest gallery is Framemakers in Salisbury.