Trevor Bell was born in Leeds and attended the local college of art from 1947 to 1952. He worked as a teacher at Harrogate College of Art before moving to St Ives, Cornwall, after encouragement from his friend and fellow artist Terry Frost. Arriving there in 1955, Bell soon met the leading figures of the town's burgeoning artistic community. Ben Nicholson became a friend and mentor for Bell, providing sound advice and encouragement. He shared a studio in the basement of the St Ives seamen's mission with the sculptor Brian Wall. Bell quickly made his reputation as a leading figure of the younger generation of St. Ives artists and would help establish British art on the world stage.
In the 1958 catalogue for his enormously successful first solo exhibition, at the Waddington Gallery in London, Patrick Heron described him as "the best non-figurative painter under 30". A year later Bell was awarded the Paris Biennale International Painting Prize and an Italian Government Scholarship. In 1960 he took up the Gregory Fellowship, awarded by Leeds University. Many successful shows followed for the artist in Ireland, Scotland and England.
In the 1970s Bell returned to teaching when he became a Professor of Graduate Painting at the Florida State University in Tallahassee. He continued to exhibit in the States and in Europe, including a major solo show in 1973 at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London. Bell lived in the USA for over twenty years and during this time, the artist developed the huge, intensely coloured paintings for which he is best known. These paintings helped to establish his reputation and he achieved great success in the United States.
In the 1990s, moving full circle, Trevor Bell returned to settle and paint in Cornwall. In 1993 he was included in Tate St Ives' opening displays. In 1995 he exhibited again at Tate St Ives and was included in the John Moores Exhibition, Liverpool. Bell benefitted from the renewal of interest in British modernist art that followed.