Stokes seems to have the creative freedom that may have other artists, serving more commercial or intellectual masters, becoming anxious. It seems like Stokes just makes whatever he feels like, or works with whatever the sea provides, as it were. It's as though a fisherman waits patiently to see what might bite. But surely this reading is too simple. A reading of this body of work involves a certain amount of time, for there are no dry references to art history or to art theory. Stokes also does not seem to make links to his apparent interest in psychoanalysis directly in the work. So where do we begin.
Entering the gallery, the first thing that is visible is a small make-shift shelter or shed. It's too small for a person, but a kind of door exists that has a handle. I remembered the beginning of Alice in Wonderland where Alice takes a bite or a sip and shrinks in order to gain access to another world. This altered perspective is hinted at by Anamorphic Study, which accompanied the press release though is not installed in the gallery, apparently.
The shed/house is a bit of an architectural folly: it's been constructed for pleasure, rather than utility. It is also quite close to being derelict, but it's not, as there is a flute inside. It's not quite Arte Povera either. The little house seems to hold a rich set of ideas and questions. Who uses it? Where did it come from? Why is it here? Why is it made from a lot of junk? Should I is say "junk"?
My questions start to build up and a feeling of being at a loss takes over, as the answers evade me. I move on. A boat-like sculpture constructed from what looks like an old bit of felt and a wooden frame greet me next. It is still, though seems to be linked to a painting behind it. The painting depicts a boat upon the sea (I assume). Another painting then shows a whale in the sea painted upon what looks like an old car door. Following this is another painting showing a sensuous, oily scene of the boat inside a whale. These paintings offer something of a triptych: a religious scene perhaps, or the telling of a storey?
But Stokes has left two of the paintings on the floor, or perhaps he chose to do this. Then again, perhaps they aren't finished. It's all narrative stuff this and it feels as though you're inside the head of a hermit who has been swallowed by the whale. This hermit is apparantly called Jack, I later discover. Jack sings songs to the whale. I wondered why. Is there a threat of being digested? Does jack sing for his supper?
Perhaps the most intriguing piece of work is a tiny paper boat that sits on an uneven windowsill. It looks lost and a-drift. I remember my own disorienting questions and feelings of loss and wonder if I've been set up to experience a sense of loss and alienation. Jack's loneliness in the whale seems to remind me of my own experience of living in the world.
What began as a playful exhibition with a danger of being overly simplified, becomes a searching and poetic reservoir of questions and ideas in common with the artist. There is also an undeniably Folk aesthetic reminiscent of something akin to the Moomins. It is this child-like aspect in the work that bypasses my best efforts at a more theoretical pursuit to understanding the work.
This show is worth seeing though a willingness to be like Alice is required. Don't expect a nicely packaged set of constructs or an information sheet to go with it.