Stephen Washington


May 25 - July 1

Opening Reception: June 9, 7-10pm

Artist Talk: June 17, 2pm

"The works presented to you in this show represent my recent exploration of a reduction and redaction process applied to the traditional landscape motif and my return to abstract painting that began in 2014 after a twenty-year hiatus. Having trained as a painter in England in the 1970s this show marks a return to my Neo-Expressionist roots and is the precursor for larger works planned.

I have chosen to explore the landscape as a motif and decided upon a deliberative approach towards achieving abstraction that would begin with workshops in Plein Air painting and a deep dive into the Hudson River School, the Barbizon School and the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. During this time, I made small studies and sought to understand the essence of each school. There then followed a period of about a year where I investigated the result of removing elements of the traditional landscape painting from the studies. Finally, I distilled the landscape down to a horizon and some suggestion of linear perspective with gestural mark-making substituting for the depiction of all the organic and man-made structures usually found within a landscape.

It has occurred to me that by removing all the trees and vegetation and other pictorial elements, the paintings act as metaphors for human industrial activity within the landscape especially the processes of deforestation, monoculture, the exploitation of tar sands, shale oil and gas, open-cast mining and war. Several of the works could suggest natural disasters which are a result of human initiated climate change. The black pigments used are organic blacks derived from the soot from burning fossil fuels and organic matter, including bones. The other pigments are derived from earths and mined metals and minerals. The association of these environmental ideas with the paintings are secondary considerations though, and my primary objective is always to construct a successful painting, and a resonation with it, that does not require supplementary explanation. Likewise, the titles of the works refer to biblical and mythological narratives concerning ecological disaster associated with the end of the world but the pieces themselves are not illustrative of these prophesies. 

Prior to picking up a brush again, my medium was photography, and there is an abundance of photographic references in these paintings, including the monochrome execution, the matting device in several of the paintings and the implied regression of horizontal space that is reminiscent of the optical distortion of a wide-angle lens.

The small studies are selected to show potential avenues for further exploration in larger paintings with a few of those avenues already under investigation in works presented in this show. I am using acrylic and oils, separately in some paintings and combined in others and have just started to work with the painterly application of varnish in expressive brushstrokes to provide super saturation of the black pigment and an alternative visual performance of the work relative to the position of the viewer and the nature of the light it is reflecting. 

As a painter I have been influenced by other Neo-Expressionist painters like Frank Auerbach, Leon Kossoff, Eugene Leroy, Anselm Keifer, Philip Guston and Milton Resnick but also acknowledge that my reductionist process has its roots in the process first employed by Piet Mondrian in his Tree series. Some of Mondrian’s influence can be found my recent work along with Joan Mitchell’s who used a similar ligature as the compositional basis for many of her works in the 1950s. I am also indebted to Pierre Soulages and his Outrenoir."

-Stephen Washington