Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Curatorial Review of Russell Stephenson's "Mindscapes" exhibition at J.R. Mooney Galleries- Boerne in New Plumage-TX Magazine

J.R. Mooney Galleries-Boerne Gallery Director, Gabriel Diego Delgado shares his thoughts with Plumage-TX Magazine on the curatorial basis behind the "Mindscapes" exhibition.  You can read the full article at:

Russell Stephenson

J.R. Mooney Galleries-Boerne

By: Gabriel Diego Delgado,
Gallery Director - Boerne

“Mindscapes,” a solo exhibition of new work by San Antonio artist, Russell Stephenson, is a curated spotlight of art that engulfs the viewer into a metaphysical journey through sci-fi-esque renditions of Texas topography, juxtaposed and coupled with the artist’s own exploration of mind and world shaped by personal afflictions.

From violent thunderclouds masquerading as crowns for celestial auroras of heavenly atmospheric amalgamations (halos) in Corona, to canyons and mountains portrayed as conceptual struggles in identity, an artist’s simplified battle of good vs. evil, in The Majestic, we feel an undercurrent of cosmic exploration with a signature medium by way of a quest for self-discovery.  Current events like the recent flooding in South Texas, the massive supercells over the Texas Panhandle and the artist’s own drive to experiment all play a role in Stephenson’s influences for “Mindscapes”.  Examples of emotion abutted by landscape explorations can be found in the calmness of mind of “Silent Solitude,” but contrasted in “Castleaine” with its compositional angles; assumptive tectonic plates that jut upward, forced from the subterranean by violent burst of the grinding fault lines.   

With the inclusion of two artworks from the “Cave Painting” series, “Cave Painting III & V”, the audience delves into the past with visual investigations of the primordial gestures of primitive man: a rock art aesthetic that references the cave paintings of Lascaux, Texas’s own Pecos region and Palo Duro Canyon. Stephenson strives to capture the intuitive application of creative need in his own color palette aesthetic while retaining his mastered craft for his push and pull of textures – i.e. the divots, cracks, creases, and pockets of layered grooves that capture our wild imaginations.  The scraped and gouged paint give rise to his pursuit of reconnection to art history by way of contemporary applications.

When I recently met with Russell Stephenson at his Alamo Heights studio we had already been discussing “Mindscapes” on the phone, in text and via email for about four months.  To see the artwork in person prompted a crisscross of casual conversations mixed with a professional inquiry.   I saw a change in his mood, a kind of creative uncertainty mixed with a newly acquired cynicism of contemporary art market vitality.  I heard of his new gallery prospects in Santa Fe, New Mexico, of disappointments with the regional affairs and ways in which he felt his artwork was going to mature.  This insightful off-the-cuff conversation led me to further investigate the ways in which to formulate his exhibition. 
As our conversation continued in the studio, it led to Stephenson’s other Texas galleries and the bodies of work he needed to execute for them; each one exhibiting a different series ranging from strict grid patchwork designs to formal abstractions.  Over the course of the last few years he has deliberated how to blend these styles into one pure signature aesthetic.  His techniques and medium manipulations in any of his series reflect a signature Russell Stephenson touch, but each gallery wanted visuals that appealed to certain demographics and art markets.

I began to understand he was starting to figure out a way to deviate from gallery dictated ventures to creating something new, a compilation of sorts for all of his contractual obligations he was fully invested in.  This thoughtful approach was refreshing to hear, as he was beginning to understand how to dig out from his muddled aspects of five separate directions to one strong maturity.

In 2013/2014, J.R. Mooney Galleries had previously shown only Stephenson’s Texas Panoramic series, a kind of middle ground aesthetic that melded with the gallery’s fundamental branding that has always included traditional impressionistic aesthetic mixed with portrait, landscapes and Tuscan paintings. Stephenson’s abstracted Texas landscapes gives us horizon lines that grounded us in traditional landscapes of geographical locations we could digest; a kind of concrete middle ground that fit in between the abstract and traditional genres.

The new artwork for “Mindscapes” was much more than that topographically driven formulation.  In over a year, I saw a maturity in style, a mastery of technique and a willingness to explore tools that included sticks, rocks, spatulas and palette knives, and which brought about a new sense of control, of student vs. teacher, and Stephenson playing the subordinate to the art.  He learned along the way, and in the course of being schooled by his creations, he found philosophical substance.  Conjectural aspects of personal inner struggle, an inward reflection of self that transcribes physical boundaries to be projected out and manifested as conceptual regurgitations, as he bears down and expels proof of everything around him that affects his mindset - whether political, social or environmental.

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