Stephen Felton’s utterly concrete and pragmatic approach to painting is the main ingredient to a very specific kind of conversation. When the works are viewed as a group they seem to each hold a different deck of cards even though they are all playing the same game. As if each has a role: The historian, the explorer, the good child, the bad child and so on. Yet each quirk of all these very different personality traits seem to make it into each and every painting he makes. Their wit relies on sharpness and sparingly used means. No nonsense: everything that would distract the audience from the immediate effect is carefully removed.
Although the technique applied on the canvas is quite limited, Stephen Felton’s work rely on a lot of rehearsing. Rehearsing until it works, like a stage performance. Either a painting works or it doesn’t. There’s no in between.
"Once I have an image that I am working with I tend to keep working it. Since the paintings are so sparse I have to start over every time I am not satisfied.
So that means I have to white wash it and start over. It is pretty rare when I get it right the first time, although of course that is my goal. Sometimes the image is just a failure and I have to let it go."
For the same reasons, there’s no mystery in the making.
"I don't often mix colors, they are pretty much straight out of the tube. My paintings usually consist of only one color so I do think about it. Sometimes there is a reason for picking that color but more often than not I just want to see it, see what it looks like. The standard size I use just came out of practicality. It was the largest square I could get out of a 6 foot roll of canvas which is what a standard roll is at my local art supply shop. Over time I became really comfortable working with that size and I never really changed. I could tell you it had something to do with the scale of the human body, but that wouldn't be true."
This minimalistic approach could have been done on another medium. But a lot would have been lost without the strange cohabitation between painting’s remains of grandeur and its actual materiality. Stephen Felton depicts his work as materialistic; nonetheless he allows himself some idealistic digressions. “I definitely feel, like a lot of painters, that like it or not: painting chooses them. I know that sounds a bit too romantic.” According to him, painting conveys only one mystery: how the viewer will fill its empty space with an interpretation, like one would put feeling on a neutral mask. Painting is a screen, either you believe it reflects a hidden dimension, the artist intention or the viewer interpretation.
"Actually, its kind of a strange idea that I came up with in Rome over the summer. I was looking at all of this amazing art that is of course based mostly on the ideals of religion. I knew then that I wanted to be able to depict ideas. That’s when I came up with this show, which is more about an action than an image in itself. This seemed to have all the drama of the subject I was looking for, as a starting point."