• 13 June 2013

Paintings by Kathryn Stevens

The impetus for much of Kathryn Stevens’ work comes from a particular fascination with architectural structures and engineering. Stevens talks of her fascination with the constructional, geometrical and aesthetic attributes of many contemporary architectural structures. In a state of continual change and renewal, these are the structures that make up the cities and towns that we inhabit. 

These structures with their distinctive facades not only contain and house our human physical form, but also punctuate our physical orientation as we pass through, around and amongst them. Implicated in the passage through these architecturally constructed landscapes are their appearance and aesthetic attributes. The weight, height, mass and texture of these structures infiltrate our senses and affect the human subject in a variety of ways.

These effects may overwhelm, surprise or distract us from the realities of everyday life, and it is this phenomenon that Stevens actively seeks and exploits within her practice as a painter.

As with many artists over the past several years, Stevens’ past and current painting practices make reference to other visualizing disciplines and technologies. In referencing these diverse picturing disciplines and technologies, Stevens questions not only how they inform the way in which we interpret the world around us, but, more importantly, the possibilities they offer to create and construct virtual worlds/spaces.

Via painting, Stevens reinterprets a variety of primary two-dimensional visual elements and devices employed by a variety of artist practices to create the illusion of pictorial space. This reinterpretation reconfigures their historical givens and visual   qualities and, in doing so, offers and affords us the opportunity to project ourselves into unimaginable, or, as Stevens describes them, “possible” spaces. 

Stevens constructs these spaces, not through applying conventional representational means, but by extending devices and strategies associated within both abstract and figurative realms of the visual arts.

A prominent device employed by Stevens is the grid. The use of grids by visual artists, designers, architects, researchers, mathematicians and scientists has been well documented for centuries. The grid has been used as a device that can order, measure, contain, (re)organize, rationalize and regiment space. Grids also have the ability to flatten, dissect and fold pictorial space and actual space.  

For Stevens, these formal attributes can be juxtaposed and reconfigured in a manner which complicates and confuses the overall pictorial effect that is produced. The resulting contradictions create a situation in which factors, such as form, line and colour, lose their distinctive and separate existence, yet simultaneously retain their inherent individual characteristics. 

In the case of Stevens’ paintings, the picture plane of each painting is traversed and warped by various grids that, at first glance, attempt to organize and regiment the canvas from edge to edge. 

This regimentation is in turn disrupted by juxtapositions of colour, which are dispersed across the entire surface or field of the painting. These areas, points, locations or zones of colour, within each painting, at times appear to be contained by the grid(s) and, at other points, appear to dissolve and overwhelm them. 

This, in turn, creates an oscillating rhythmical effect, and the sensation of movement is created. This sensation of movement, on the whole, is not disjointed or jarring, but silent and, sometimes, ambient in nature. The repetitive nature of the self-replicating grids employed by Stevens imbues her canvases with a frequency and pitch, which is, in some senses, meditative and romantic, whilst paradoxically still referencing the pseudo-scientific.  

On viewing Stevens’ painting you are offered an illusory space, a sense of depth, a falling into an infinite, a once impossible space, but at the same time you are paradoxically drawn back to the surface of the painting by the grid formations that envelopes their entirety. What is interesting here is that, even though the grids still retain inherent aspects of a mathematical precision associated with construction of perspective and processes related to the mapping of space, other elements such as colour begin to render the grids unstable.

These colours used by Stevens are, on the whole, muted, offering a variety of associations. These associations are often related to various forms of surface patterning, from the organic, to the digitally constructed matrix. Associations related to decoration or fabric patterning may also appear, along with references to other phenomena, from the micro to the macro. The manner in which the grids are compressed or folded within an individual painting, or series of paintings, in turn affects the intensity of colour, and the resulting ‘effect’ of immersion that may be felt or sensed by the viewer(s). The use of a muted organic pallet also seems to work in opposition to the synthetic manmade construct of the grid.

It is these inherent material, process orientated, and perceptual contradictions that continually destabilize any uniform readings, both in terms of a conceptual understanding, and on a level of pure sensation.

This perceptual instability should not be read as failure within Stevens’ practice, but as a contingency, and an opportunity for us to stop relying on historically given readings or interpretations of form, space, time and to seek new possibilities and effects that potentially govern our perception.

Leigh Martin

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