Two years ago, my partner and I purchased our first painting by Stephen Appleby-Barr from Nicholas Metivier Gallery at the PULSE Art Fair in New York. We were both drawn to the old world mysterious quality of his painting but also to the play of light that it captured on the canvas. We were told by the gallery that only black and white oil paint was used and built up to get this eerie glow which seems to illuminate the “Little Lord Dulac” work 2010. As a collector of chairs, I also liked the positioning of the figure on this larger than life chair, or throne, as I like to think of it. I was hypnotized by the work of this talented rising art star that has created a new, modern and exciting form of extraordinary portraiture painting.
Neither of us had met the artist prior to acquiring the painting but we both were fascinated by the technique and amount of detail captured by Stephen’s hand. One year later, we revisited the PULSE fair and purchased our second Appleby-Barr painting entitled “The Tradition Pit” 2011. It is larger than the first work and much more complicated but still has this mysterious, haunting quality and captures the light in such detail that it has an amazing depth to the surface.
Stephen and I tried to meet last month for the Armory Show but missed seeing each other so I caught up with him by phone to discuss his work.
Where did you study? Sheridan College, Oakville, Canada. What happened first? Along with 4 friends, he formed a collective of illustrators called “Team Macho”. They have had numerous exhibitions and share a studio together. In 2007 they published a book called “Fancy Action Now”. The group was like a fraternity of sorts to “keep their heads in the game, a way to keep up with their peers”.
Stephen focused primarily on illustration and draftsmanship in the beginning but evolved into oil painting as a medium to capture what he wanted to express in these beautiful old images he discovered going through his grandmother’s yearbooks. His first works also evoked some sense of a fraternity, complete with a mascot named Punchy who reappears in many of the paintings.
Who were his heroes in painting? John Singer Sargent and Diego Velazquez were there in the beginning but Rembrandt and Goya became significant influences as his work evolved as well as van Dyck and Vermeer. Appleby-Barr references daguerreotypes, the first commercially successful photography technique.
His subjects seem to stare back at the viewer and the scale of the works averaging 11″ x 14″ are very intimate capturing every detail of the subjects clothing and surroundings.
In March-April of 2011, Stephen sold out a show of new work and is currently working on another solo show to be announced. I cannot wait to see what his magic brush will come up with next!
Stephen Appleby-Barr is represented exclusively by Nicholas Metivier Gallery in Toronto. Thank you to Rita Stuart at www.metiviergallery.com for generously allowing me to share these images on The Gilded Owl!
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