Sunday, 11 March 2012

From South Africa with experimental painting, drawing

By Tajudeen Sowole
The gains of an experimental artist and dynamics of mixed media were the focus of Centre for Contemporary Art, Lagos’ (CCA)-organised Artist’s Talk.

It featured South Africa-based artist, Gary Stephens, whose work about painting on fabrics, creating optical illusion with mixed media and drawing braids, are profound examples of progression in experimental art.

From painting sceneries, mostly of greenery Arizona, U.S., where he was born, to a stint in Middle East, Stephens would discover that there was more to art when he moved to Jo’burg, South Africa. This, he explained via slide projection to his Nigerian audience at CCA.

His techniques cut across paintings, painting/drawing, photography and print.

Most interesting was his technique of painting on fabrics. In prints – known as Ankara in Nigeria and Shweshwe in South Africa), mostly used by Africans - Stephens has found a canvas, on which he conceptualises, dragging mechanised designs of the fabric into his themes.

 Gary Stephens explaining his technique during Art Talk event at CCA, Lagos.
  In some of his techniques, the optical illusion effect is created either by string screens, vertical lines and pleating the prints of the painting. The artist recalled that his journey of experimentation started when one of the galleries in South Africa wanted him to be working on a specific theme, “which I thought would be repeating myself.”

In one of the works, Shaggy on Shweshwe Acrylic on Shweshwe fabric, 90x140cm, 2012

Stephens applies acrylic to render a portraiture, bringing out quite a fascinating, but concealed detail of the fabric, which he stylises.

 

Similarly, in Beach Vendor In Sunlight, he excavates dimensional illusion from his improvised canvas of fabric, creating the hat out of the original design of the textile print.


Creating a 3-D effect in another series in which the painting on paper is folded in multiples also shows the artist’s prowess in the techniques of dimensional art. Although he provides a screen for viewing, which makes the effect stronger, the work could still have retained its dimensional effects without any aids.


Gary Stephens' The Sun Set Cap, painting on ankara fabric

 And while in Lagos, before the Art Talk, he had taken some photographs as an extension of his back-view portraiture series, which highlights braiding and dreadlocks as well as unisex urban fashion trends.   The drawings close in on back view of a model, highlighting the creativity in hair plaiting. Stephens noted that “my drawings make everyday heroes” of the people” depicted in South Africa. 


  CCA argued that Stephens’ focus on the intricacy of braiding and dreadlocks honors the expertise and artistry required to create these elaborate hairstyles.

  For the artist who has added to the creativity of the braiders, “by meticulously drawing the interwoven patterns of each plaited strand of hair,” the use of string screens, vertical lines, pleats and stripes “reflect his attempt to bring motion and energy into traditional drawing.”

  CCA stressed on the dimensionality of Stephens’ work: “The folds and pleats in the paper repeat and emphasize the three dimensional quality of the weave patterns in the knitting and braided hair.”
A drawing piece, Soweto Braids Spiral by Gary Stephens
 Stephens explained that the folded drawings and paintings started four years ago.
  The visist was the artist’s first in Lagos and hoped to use the opportunity to meet with Nigerian artists. Also, he would be adding Nigerian fabric to his work.
 Stephens is a native of the Mexican border town of Yuma, Arizona, U.S.

Stephens studied art at San Francisco Art Institute, San Francisco in and
College of Marin, Kentfield, California.
  Some of his solo exhibitions include Braids and Caps at Gallery Momo, Johannesburg,
2008; NewWork, Studio Dimore , Florence, Italy, 2005; Cactus and Sunflowers, Yuma Art Center Museum, Yuma, Arizona, U.S.; Arizona Meets Africa, Prato (Florence), Italy 2004.

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