In categories: Blog
February 5, 2012
Paul Stopforth, Bethedsa: installation view
Last week a Drawing Show went up at the museum in Provincetown. Curators Breon Dunigan and Joe Fiorello included a set or works on paper from Paul Stopforth. All titled ‘Bethesda’, they are made with Gouache, Graphite and Milk Paint, are part of Stopforth’s Robben Island Series of images made in response to a stay and study of Nelson Mandela’s infamous prison island off the coast of South Africa. The subject here is a tidal pool on the island that at one point was used as by a leper colony as a place to bathe and heal. Stopforth’s subjects are most often places or objects of transformation. His early career in South Africa saw work that responded directly and with great courage to Apartheid. Many paintings since have depicted terrain (Stopforth is a collector of terrains) where specific political or cultural shifts have taken place, presented with the artist’s renderings of these occurrences. Still later his subjects have been objects or places now considered sacred by their making, handling, location or provenance (Mandela’s soap and towels for example). Stopforth does not suggest interpretation or cast morality which allows these subjects to become symbols of that which they attempt to interpret.
- Bethesda 4 pieces at Provincetown Art Association & Museum
Paul tells me that he had chosen to use milk paint and gouache to make the Robben Island images for their texture as the place itself was so dry and acrid. The drawings at PAAM are begun with open washes, swipes or reveals that wiggle under the thumb of the term ‘background’ because they interact with the foreground or central subject in different ways. Using a logic begun in a series of diptychs from 2007 that were designed to quite literally open the mind and disallow one pointed or didactic looking Stopforth’s subjects (or figures) embrace, wrestle, tumble, welcome and compete with the fore and back grounds. The two often morph into one another in surprising ways – a meeting ground for two distinct mark making styles. The open wash of the background uses gesture and chance to locate Paul in proximity in art history to certain schools of painting and thought – Gerhard Richter in this case. The contrasting hyper real rendering of the subject or foreground also create an open minded stance and an interesting visual and visceral tension. It also softly suggests two or more kinds of time in the work; the quick spontaneity of the gestures, the lengthy, meditative exactitude of the tidal pools, and the sense of time implicit in and impossible or endless landscape.
This ability to operate with great warmth and humanity, to make art that is alive with history and contemporary urgency within the formal choices Paul Stopforth makes prior to beginning the work sets the stage for the viewer. I have always thought of these works as male for the ways that they generate warmth and earthly strength, something that is both misunderstood and maligned by the very patriarchy that stands mute in response to this artist’s depth of skill.
It’s important to acknowledge the programming at the museum here as one that will mount such thoughtful work. Director Chris McCarthy has reverence for the history of Provincetown and its great and local masters, its formidable teachers, and enthusiastic learners. She understands how to work with regionalization without being encumbered by contextualization. Primarily she understands that legacy is always happening now, a viewpoint that is essential to keeping Provincetown alive and part of the larger conversation between artists, curators, media and collectors. She also views galleries as partners and not as competition, something that is not always typical or reciprocal. Provincetown’s legacy is alive in the work of curators like Dunigan and Fiorello, in Directors like McCarthy, and in artists like Paul Stopforth.
Break, 2011 Gouache & Acrylic on Panel 13×36"
Paul continues work on a new series of images of Provincetown’s breakwater. Reasoning that his relocation from South Africa to the US in 1988 saw him wash ashore at this recognizable structure (and terrain) it has become his most recent subject. These paintings are available at the gallery now.