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Sunday Salon 8 | John Stephens | New works
14 July 2019
A Saturation Point project hosted by Patrick Morrissey and Hanz Hancock.
©Copyright Patrick Morrissey and Clive Hancock All rights reserved.
Two Blues, Two Violets (2019), 93 x 113 cm, oil paint on canvas
John Stephens: artist’s statement for Saturation Point Salon 8
The main thoroughfare of his school’s Victorian building, now long gone, was a lengthy,
slightly curving corridor, and because of this you couldn’t see the ends. It gave
a feeling of isolation to a reproduction of Piero della Francesca’s Nativity, placed
just above eye level on the wall at about the mid-
Two Colours Blue (2019). 93 x 103 cm, oil paint on canvas
John Stephens’ artistic practice is based on an abiding interest in modernism and
the problems of contemporary abstract painting, making works with oil paint on canvas,
watercolour on paper and more recently pigment-
His somewhat unusual art school training in the mid/late 60s in Berlin introduced
him to European abstraction, at first the gestural nature of Taschisme, then in the
later 60s, minimalist abstraction which inspired a more philosophical approach. The
then radicalism of a pared-
Following a long hiatus in any sustained approach to making art, brought about by a commitment to art education, Stephens is now again confronting the problems of modernist abstract painting, a genre that he feels is still relevant.
This collection of five paintings was made specifically for Salon 8 and they follow on from a set of wall hangings made for Eastbury Manor in Barking, London, earlier in the year. The significance there was the palette of predominantly earth colours drawn from the frescos that can still be seen on the walls of the main upstairs reception room in this 16th century manor house, and Stephens’ use of pigment mixed with linseed oil, effectively making his own paint.
Predella with Orange and Violet (2019), 109 x 118 cm, oil paint on canvas
The paintings use simple compositional structures involving vertical and horizontal divisions, and explore colour orchestrations that take account of the tonality and degrees of saturation of colour. They are the product of successive applications of thin layers of colour, with an attempt to keep the colour close to the canvas. This can result in the creation of optical mixes, often defying a colour nomenclature, and are set against more heightened saturated colour incidents at the edges of the composition.
To say that the paintings are wholly metaphysical in their abstraction would not
be entirely true, as there is some allusion to the experienced world -
Indigo, Green Earth, Pink (2019), 93 x 113 cm, oil paint on canvas
He tends to favour working within given restraints and with the involvement of numbers. In the works’ conception they become painterly propositions involving the design of their structures and the processes of their making. The compositional designs derive ultimately both from the numbers of the Fibonacci Sequence as well as an intuitive delineation between one plane and another, whilst the processes involve those of traditional oil painting. Throughout the process he is guided by the potential for creating a visual poetry of compositional poise and colour.
John Stephens spent his early childhood in Germany and later returned to study fine
art at the Hochschule fur Bildende Künste in Berlin (now Universität der Künste Berlin)
and was there during the politically significant years of the late 1960s. His professional
life has been in art education and he was until recently Head of Art and Design at
the University of Bedfordshire. During the 1980s and 1990s he was closely involved
in the Castlefield Gallery, Manchester, one of the first artist-
John Stephens, July 2019
Red and Blue on Blue (2019), 129 x 186 cm (two panels, each 129 x 93 cm)