The American painter Charles Bell was a pioneer of Photorealism and is known for painting vintage objects using a hyperrealistic technique. In the late 1960s he began depicting gumball machines on which light was reflected. In 1976 his interest turned to pinball machines, which project light as opposed to reflecting it.
Thunder Smash shows a fragment of a pinball machine that combines two effects of light: the machine’s illuminated panel where light is projected from behind, and the metal ball that reflects the light and everything around it in, in trompe l’oeil fashion.
Using a language typical of illustrations or comics, the picture features white and yellow stars and a crescent moon together with bursts of thunder and explosions. The combination of cold and warm colours and these explosive forms, which infuse the work with rhythm and vitality, may be inspired by recent landmark events such as the showing of the first colour photographs of the surface of Mars, taken by US space probe Viking 1, or the premiere of George Lucas’s first feature film Star Wars in 1977. The Cold War and these happenings triggered a general interest in the control of aerospace.