June 14 – July 5 2011
A Sense of Place:
Paintings of London and Oxfordshire
Private views were held on:
Tuesday June 14th, 6.30 – 8.30pm
Thursday June 16th, 6.30 – 8.30pm
Sunday June 26th, 12.00 – 3.00pm
Viewing by appointment at other times.
The award-winning garden at 286 Earl’s Court Road, is open to visitors of Summer private views and for the Earl’s Court Festival on Sunday June 26th 2011 from 12.00 – 3.00pm Admission free.
For further information contact Jonathan Ross: Phone 07747 807576
The mystery of a successfully painted portrait is that the material of pigment on canvas can produce, not just an external likeness of the subject, but a sense of their inner life, that spark of existence which is precisely not a material object. Minna Stevens is an accomplished portrait painter; but this sense of something living and breathing, and never objectified, is present in all her work.
The animal paintings are perfect examples: each of them conveys the distinctness of another life, made palpable through the sheer accuracy of Stevens’ observation. Yet we experience each creature not as the recognisable image of its outer form, but as a felt relation to a particular being – unknown (who knows what a dog or a gorilla thinks?) while at the same time so fully perceived that it is completely present.
This quality extends most strikingly to Stevens’ portraits of places, both rural and urban, which never feel static but have the live quality of existing in time. The meadow in summer, the river and broken willow in spring – these landscapes have been painted through registering light, so that what is felt is a specific moment, as well as a specific place. The sense of uniqueness is equally vivid in city scenes: the three women walking towards us in a North London street couldn’t be anywhere else. The light is falling in just that way, at just that time, and their easy walk and conversation over the baby buggy have not been “frozen in time”, but perceived in motion.
For it is the process of perception that makes this work so alive. Stevens is not using paint to “capture” – to reproduce the way people or places look. She is using it to respond: her ability not just to look but to see her subjects gives the work a relational quality and her portraits, whether of people, places or animals, are responses, they are part of a relationship. For this reason they are never completely solidified and resist reification. There is a truthfulness about Stevens’ use of paint: the act of painting is for her a process of close observing and paying attention with a care that sets ego aside. And yet through this process, the sense of subjecthood comes across – there is a live dynamic between the subjectivity of the painter and the subject of the painting. There are no inanimate objects here, no empty places: everything is full and alive in time, transient yet present, like Gary in the doorway.
After many years as a portrait painter of humans and other animals, producing work that disappears from general view the moment that it is delivered into the private hands of the commissioner, this is the first opportunity to see a body of work that brings together paintings that deal with another aspect of Minna Stevens’ work, images from and around where she lives and works, both in London and Eaton Hastings on the Thames in Oxfordshire.