ERRATUS / Stephen Appleby-Barr
I just returned from Toronto after attending Stephen Appleby-Barr’s second solo opening Erratus at Nicholas Metivier Gallery and it was sensational! I was invited to a private dinner for the artist and ended up being seated next to Stephen himself after the opening and I must admit I am still in awe of how talented this young artist is. When I started my blog last year I was hesitant to take on another social media platform and begin writing with all of the talented friends and fellow designers that I admire already doing this for years and what could I do that was different? What would be meaningful to me and what was missing from the world of bloggers was a different take on design, focusing on craftsmanship and details. I didn’t necessarily want to cover things that other blogs were talking about or if so, I wanted to capture the making of things and how handmade design still resonated with me and how I could educate or share my experiences with a design based audience. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine how many incredible designers, artists, and musicians I would meet in such a short time and Stephen is definitely one of those people.
When I arrived in Toronto I went directly to the gallery and met with Nicholas Metivier and Greg Manuel to discuss Stephen’s new show and how his work has evolved over the past three years since I discovered him at the Pulse New York art fair and purchased my first work. I learned that Stephen has recently taken his own studio space after sharing space with a group he is still involved with Team Macho, but is now focusing on his work more intensely and his work is becoming more deeply personal and larger in scale. Many of the works in the new show are self portraits and other self personas as well as friends that have been taken out of context and placed in a magical world that is both historical and surreal at the same time. His Self Portrait, Late Arrival and Invitation (above) are so technically accurate that the stars in the paintings are astronomically precise. In a very short period, Appleby-Barr has captured a devoted audience of collectors internationally and the show almost sold out prior to the opening night.
In his new show Erratus, meaning to go astray and make mistakes, Stephen’s fraternity has disassembled and been taken to a metaphorical road, the protagonist embarking on his own journey. Appleby-Barr borrows symbolic locations – the mountain, the garden, the cave and the furnace – from one of his most important literary influences, Northrop Frye. One of the first paintings in the new body of work, To The Dark Tower Came depicts a hooded messenger, one of Appleby-Barr’s facets of his persona on a horse with a burning beautiful sky in the background. The character is leaving something behind and there is dramatic shadow indicating moving on to another place. Also set upon a horse but after spending time in the Met and studying the details of armor in fantastically realistic detail, Punchclaw, one of his recurring characters is also embarking on a journey but the background is much brighter and of a very different mood. Both of these paintings at five feet by six feet are dramatically larger in scale and obviously turning points in Appleby-Barr’s journey. In addition to the self portraits and friends he has incorporated into the works, two new portraits of a recurring character P.T. Hose or Pantyhose caught my attention. Stephen shared with me “the character was created many years when I discovered a traveling water colour set in my grandmother’s basement. At the time I was watching a lot of Miyazaki, the famed director, animator and manga artist.” Stephen generously shared some of his favorite studies from this series of over 50 fantastic water colors and following them is my latest acquisition, P.T. Hose Reclining.
The day after the opening Stephen graciously agreed to meet me at the gallery and discuss what went into the past year and the creation of these incredible paintings. He may have been slightly overwhelmed by the previous days opening and dinner with so many supporters, admirers and friends attending the show and seeing this come to fruition but I found him to be a humble artist on a fantastical journey that I feel lucky to be a part of. Getting his new studio and locking himself away for hours at a time was a new self discipline that made the works even more personal and introspective. Last year he even did his first etchings and plans on doing more in the future. When he described the process of the wax and drawing technique in which all of the details of the scribed surface get pulled out from the copper plate and the ink is transferred to paper it was as if I was speaking to an old master from another century. The following paintings hearken back to his first works in that they are diminutive in scale but say so much about where he is going as an artist. The show was beautifully installed and I have replicated the order of the Still-Life series below as they shown at Metivier gallery because of the presence they had as a grouping.
One of the last paintings Stephen did was of a friend who works in a local bar he frequents. “Casey was the first person who asked me to paint a portrait of her. I was intrigued and after a trip to the Met studying the armor and details I decided to incorporate her stoic presence into this work.” In Stephen’s hands she becomes a strong character that is both steeped in history but also modern and the detail captured in the armor and how the light reflects on the embellished metal surfaces is really stunning in person.
Thank you to Nicholas Metivier, Greg Manuel, Sarah Massie, Rita Stuart, and Martie Giefert of Nicholas Metivier Gallery and my friend, the extraordinarily talented Stephen Appleby-Barr.
Erratus / Stephen Appleby-Barr remains on view at Nicholas Metivier Gallery through November 9th in Toronto.
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