Wednesday, May 27, 2020
FULL CIRCLE: The New Artwork of Russell Stephenson
By Gabriel Diego Delgado
San Antonio artist, Russell Stephenson showcases a world beyond our own, a metaphysical one – of infinite depth and detail, three dimensional illusions of floating carved and gouged abstractions.
In viewing his work, I am reminded of theologian, philosopher and scholar, Henry Corbin (1903-1978).
The Hermetic Library states, “Corbin’s life was devoted to the struggle to free the religious imagination from fundamentalisms of every kind. His work marks a watershed in our understanding of the religions of the West and makes a profound contribution to the study of the place of the imagination in human life… Imaginative Consciousness, Cognitive Imagination.”
Russell Stephenson uses art as a coded visual language for abstract thought, a notion that goes beyond our current understandings of religion, meditative practice, and spirituality.
Stephenson transports us to the evanescent planes that linger somewhere in the inner or outer dimensions. In the abyss, these ephemeral and heavenly bodies, decreed by elements of abstract realism images exist… somewhere… out there… beyond the limits of day to day mundanity, toward a new understanding of spiritual healing and a definitive releasement of mental anguish.
His new circular paintings, reminiscent of flowers, or mandalas are subject to a certain subconscious freedom. There beyond the “petals”, the patterns, and the organic flow are hints of preserved relics of religious academia, and of historically preached divinations. Oil paintings reveal what lies beyond the origins of the subconscious. Stephenson gives visual birth to these ancient origins. Paintings for post-meditation for a new kind of ‘cognitive imagination’.
“I am also inspired by Biology…the microscope…Microcosms…I wanted to make some work responding to the idea of “coming full circle”, a force of “back where we started”, “under the microscope”, says Stephenson
“But these paintings are also delicate and fragile with very intricate details, thus the microcosm… there is endless exploration for me in them.”
Endless indeed, these images are not intended to be interpreted by what we see and understand but are meditative evidences to where the mind’s eye needs to go; a place judged not by the allocates of daily living at the holy gates or the rejected principles for clean living, but to an undefined ‘nirvana-like bliss’; or as Henry Corbin describes as the “Land of no-where.”
“Circuit” a new spiral and circular painting act as a sort of visual guide, starting us out at the physical cosmos and an illuminated path that transcends us to a new level in the spiritual universe; swirling in its own cosmos- a circuit to electrify our subconsciousness.
“I constructed my own easel that rotates in order to make these,” he adds.
“The paintings act as this manifestation of pure thought…transformation of the mediums into something precious, or valuable, into the physical representations of the ephemeral or transient. The paintings act as mediums, or links, to this contemplative meditational state in which the work is ultimately made. Both as a transportation device, and as evidence-based reliquaries of that alternative reality,” says Stephenson.
“Flora”, a 24” x 24”, an oil on panel painting makes my mind perceive the painting as a blooming flower, but alas, nothing in this world is that easy. Closer analysis reveals so much more. Floral radiance is achieved through layers of paint, under-painting, and glazes gouged, scrapped, and pulled. Art History shows us this technique can be achieved through alchemic processes using gold leaf, however, Stephenson uses none. That is what reflects his craft – his ability to create these auras of illumination through meditative art process-painting.
“In my paintings I am avoiding 'graven-images', I focus more on the transient, the light, the energy, and the minute spaces in-between that science is starting to discover as the almost physical fabric that binds the two worlds together and acts as a link between the two,” Stephenson states.
Although the newer paintings are small in physical space, this manifestation of raw energy is beyond the limits of the composition. YES!! They lead us to the eternal after-world of interplanetary voids.
As we experience regression and stalled passage back to reality, Stephenson really does capture a visual element of Zoroastrianism: "be among those who renew the world...to make the world progress towards perfection.”
Stephenson might not be renewing the world in which we live, but he is doing so much more in this new body of artwork, he is making the ‘imaginary world’ of our collective cognitive consciousness a perfect place to meditate on spiritual level void of the theistic limitations of religion; to arrive at these celestial divinations of alternate realities.
Russell Stephenson was born in Abilene, TX in 1973. He has lived most of his life in West and Southwest Texas, and has been inherently influenced by the rugged landscape, and shallow color palettes. Vacations and road trips led him to the High Deserts and Rocky Mountains of New Mexico and Colorado which influenced his capacity for grand themes and monumental subject matter. Soon after public schools, he received a full tuition scholarship to the art Institute of Seattle in Washington where he studied visual communications.
He left school to pursue his own interests in painting and drawing only to return to school at The Pacific NW College of Art in Portland, OR. There he concentrated his studies in sculpture and graduated with his BFA in 2001.
After his undergraduate studies he returned to Texas and attended Graduate school at The University of Texas in San Antonio. Russell graduated in 2006 with an MFA in Printmaking.
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About the author:
Mr. Delgado has held three museum administrative positions which includes two Curator of Exhibitions roles, two gallery directorships and have written and published essays and criticisms on Kenneth Noland, Cleve Gray, Alex Katz, Roberto Matta, among many others.
His writings, critiques, and essays can be found on various art websites like glasstire.com, Contemporary Texas magazine, Art Style magazine, The Dominion Magazine, and Wall Street International Magazine; as well as over 20 other print and online platforms.
While working as the Project Manager of Research and Development for a Smithsonian affiliate, he educated himself on institutional donor-ship and financial sustainability.
Having passed numerous courses offered by the FAIC / AIC (Foundation for the American Institute of Conservation / American Institute of Conservation) he is also well versed in proper care for fine art. Mr. Delgado is a graduate of the International Society of Appraisers coursework reflective of the USPAP requirements, he has gained a unique understanding of the fine art appraisal industry.
He has worked with both the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and the IMLS ( Institute of Museum and Library Services) as a Field Grant Reviewer, and help facilitate grant funding opportunities for institutional federal funding.