William Stein’s practice as a painter centres on the tension between rigid formalism and intuitive, ‘automatic’,-‐mark-‐making.-‐These-‐conflicting disciplines combine in exquisite compositions of line and colour across the smooth surfaces of Stein’s gessoed panels. Stein also weaves the written word into his work through a kind of concrete poetry that feeds into drawing. The paintings themselves bear echoes of this as lines of pseudo ‘text’ float across the planes of colour and geometric form.
Each panel reaches its point of completion only after a process of near total obliteration and re--] imagination. Layers of paint and pigment are sanded back, scored into and obsessively reworked. The resulting paintings, quiet and elegantly poised, belie the violence inherent in their creation.
In works such as Domain – the largest in the show and an experiment in scale for Stein on these new gesso surfaces – the elements of sharply defined and purposeful cubic and circular forms cluster together, overlapping and interrupting one another to create a complex network of pencil line and score-‐ marks. This latticework hovers in and out of focus with the overarching bold brushstrokes that dominate the painting’s foreground. The work as a whole suggests the struggle between elements of the psyche to push themselves to the fore, and as both a painting and a message the work shifts as the viewer’s gaze drifts across its cloud-‐like surface.
This ambiguity and interplay of forces asserts itself in a more singular way in the smaller panels – in the audacity and sharp edged brilliance of the raised square of yellow and titanium white that intrudes on the otherwise muted and delicate surface of the work Soon, and in the poured, monotone, roughly sanded backdrop to the exacting and brightly highlighted linear forms that balance lightly on the surface of the work Dream.
That poetry and the written word enter and inspire the work is not surprising, as each painting is composed almost as a poem – hinting at meaning through its repeated form and symbolism – without ever allowing itself to be pinned down. An artists’ book edition accompanies Stein’s paintings and drawings, and in the brief glimpses of single, gestural words isolated on the page there is an echo of Stein’s intention in paint – to create entire landscapes, but to leave open the route and the journey through them.
William Stein studied for his MFA in painting at the Slade School of Fine Art, graduating with Distinction in 2009. He has been shortlisted for the Jerwood Painting Fellowship, the Marmite Prize for painting, the BOC Emerging Artist Award and the Adrian Carruthers Studio Award (Slade). He was awarded the Euan Uglow Memorial Scholarship (2008) and the Arts Council of England Award in 2004.