At first or casual glance the paintings of Edward Stone might seem to fit into the same category as the movement dating from the 1970s known as Photorealism. His images have that same almost uncanny sense of accuracy, a kind of frozen ‘realism’, (a word which Nabokov said should always be shown with inverted commas). The photorealist artists such as Robert Cottingham and Chuck Close achieved their effects through a meticulous process of copying and image transferrence. They treated the photograph with the same reverence as artists of previous centuries had treated nature. They would either take or select a photograph, sometimes at random, and then meticulously copy it in every detail through a process of projection and tracing. They accurately reproduced the surface effects of an already two dimensional image. The results were technically impressive in an almost cinematic sense. The images were often at a large museum scale. Their paintings also came as a shock to the system, almost a corrective during the first era of conceptualism and minimalism. Much ‘realist’ painting in the decades that followed have used the same method. It is often possible in the resulting paintings to spot which lens the original photograph was taken on.
A close study of Edward Stone’s paintings on the other hand will reveal that he achieves his version of ‘realism’ through what David Hockney describes as ‘eyeballing’. That is through looking and then patiently transcibing freehand in paint the scene in front of him.Through hand and eye he confronts the scene. Not with the eye of a single camera lens but with human eyes. Thus we have all the subtle little oddities of perception and perspective which arise from transcribing stereoscopic vision on to the flat surface of a canvas. The subtle distorting effects of looking both down and up and reconciling the various viewpoints into a single image. An act of prolonged and careful calculation and perception compared to the tracing of the flattened outlines of a photograph. In one of Stone’s several homages to the painter Chardin, this way of working produces almost vertiginous effects. A knife facing outwards balanced on the very edge of a white tablecloth. Its accompanying metal tray pushed just slightly too far over the edge beside it. Below the table a white enamel vessel holds wine bottles and this is seen in a shift of perspective from above. The table edge is seen from almost eye level. The two viewpoints are seamlessly blended.
The simple white cloth and scattered objects feature in several of Stone’s paintings. The tables might be laid laid with fish, upturned wine glasses, loaves of bread, (in one bravura passage the bread is wrapped in lovingly rendered transparent cellophane) scattered leaves, cheese fruit or vegetables, terracotta jugs also feature. These paintings act as a kind of homage to 17th c still life painting and especially to Chardin. There are however other ideas and expressions at play in these complex pictures than just a nostalgia for past art. There are occasional and playful juxtapositions. Incongrous objects, a tin toy monkey or a primitive leopard mask or African fetish might be added in among the more traditional still life subjects. These, along with the oddities of the hard won eyeball perspective, serve to undermine what might at first appear to be conventional still life groupings and compositions. These paintings are not just harking back. Far from it, the artist is recording what is around him, what enthuses him and the day to day passage of time. He is measuring out his hours.
Stone’s pictures can be roughly divided into three or four main areas: in the summer he paints landscapes, either in Dorset or of the Poitou in France. In winter he paints inside, Still lives and interiors, mainly of his cottage in Dorset and portraiture. The portraits are the rarer among his output and are often oblique. They are barely portraits at all, sometimes the glimpse of a face caught in a mirror at the very edge of an interior. That face may be turned away or absorbed in reading. The subject appears to take no interest in the viewer nor are they presented as subject to the viewer. The portrait subject is often seen from the other side of a room, distanced. Once again absorbed in some activity other than posing whether reading or using a laptop computer. The portraits are almost incidental to the larger subject which might appear to be the room itself. There are self portraits too. Equally oblique in most cases. The artist is caught in a mirror at the side of the image or in the act of painting itself. In a very few cases the artist confronts the viewer directly in a self portrait but these are rare. There is no vanity in these images just a desire to present a kind of unvarnished truth.
Edward Stone was born in 1940. The eldest son of Reynolds and Janet Stone. His father was a distinguished engraver. letter cutter, and water colour painter. His mother the last of the great Edwardian hostesses and a fine photographer. They lived at an 18th c Old Rectory in remote West Dorset. The house became a kind of literary and artistic salon and Stone grew up surrounded by a selection of mid 20th century cultural figures of many kinds. Ranging from Iris Murdoch and John Bayley to Kenneth Clark, and John and Myfanwy Piper. Thus he was exposed to enlightened discourse of many kinds. However he was also as a teenager inclined to be contrary. The writer Sylvia Townsend Warner lived nearby and took a keen interest in him she liked and admired his contrariness. In the 1950s Reynolds Stone took on an assistant cum apprentice Michael Harvey. He played Jazz records on a gramophone while working on lettering projects in the barn behind the main house. He introduced Stone to Jazz and developed his interest. Here was a cultural pursuit that was not shared with his parents, here was something of his own. His love and deep knowledge of jazz is evident in several of the paintings. An assembly on the familiar Stone cottage table top of jazz CD’s and various blue objects all arranged on a blue cloth acts as a tribute to the record label Blue Note. Other still lives include a saxophone a violin and in one or two cases photographs of another of his cultural heroes Charlie Parker.
There are many tributes and homages to Stone’s favourite painters scattered throughout his work, some overt and some oblique. The already noted Chardin often features, but there are also references to Daumier and to Corot in Stone’s French landscapes. Vermeer and Piero Della Francesca feature too. The references may be as straightforward as the inclusion of an art book displaying the particular artist spread out open on the table or perhaps postcards or larger reproductions pinned up on the painted wall behind.
Stone lives in a cottage close to his parents ex house and garden. This is the same landscape that sustained his father’s art and now often informs his own. Much of his dense and closely observed Dorset landscapes share the same intensity of vision as his father’s late watercolours and more especially of his wood engravings made from them. The same enclosed spaces. The same picture plane bounded by trees, branches and leaves. Stone lives alone and many of the pictures express this state. Two or three of the white tablecloth pictures for instance show an empty table stark white against the dark green background of the wall behind. In two instances the table is seen in close up detail and the flat surface of the white cloth is broken by nothing except a single streak of low light crossing the cloth perhaps from a near window. This sense of a reduction to basics is a new and powerful phase in Stone’s art.
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