Russell Stephenson, a Texas painter of metaphysical and trance-like dreamscapes, gives homage to his Texas roots in some of the new selections for the “Switch 36” exhibition. Stephenson’s artwork has always been the ‘bridging link’ between literal abstraction and traditional landscape painting. He has been able to harness the elements of both genres to formulate art that appeals to a mass audience; those that embrace landscape paintings and those who delve and drift into the abstract. Stephenson’s titles, subtle horizon lines, and quasi-recognizable earthen elements give us our moment of wanting to hold tight to traditional landscapes.
His is an artistic aesthetic with push and pull sensibilities: carving, scraping, and gouging the paint, creating dynamic surface qualities and giving fresh appeal to the abstract expressionistic realm. We are aware of his movements, force and expression as he casts down his mark with traditional and nontraditional tools like sticks and branches, palette knives, brushes and the ends of miscellaneous devices.
In “Switch 36,” Russell examines a more concrete analysis of the traditional landscape painting genre with paintings titled “Mission Reach” and “Pecos.” These two landscapes are deliberate in his implementation of fully recognizable natural elements. Abstractions are forgotten but for the atmospheric firmament that captures some of the artist’s signature surface assets. Breaks from his abstract paintings, these two are part of an ongoing series of his approach to the traditional landscapes of Texas; a genre cemented in Texas Art History dating back in to the 1800’s. Although it seems like a great departure from Russell’s recent work in the studio, they are actually a formulated and calculated progression for the artist.
When selecting the paintings for this exhibition, Stephenson discussed his interest in the formal qualities of the traditional landscape genre, and how he could identify with aspects of it. I felt it was not a far-flung departure from where he currently was in his exploration of the abstract Texas Panoramic series. Skylines with their hazy and ephemeral merits were only missing iconic landmarks like the Texas Missions, the plateaus of Palo Duro Canyon, and geographical markers of historical battlegrounds. Now we are given these majestic places with his artistic touch. Yes, I believe these new paintings encompass a sense of ‘Metamodernism.’ As in the words of Andre Furlani, Russell Stephenson goes “far beyond homage, toward a re-engagement with modernist method in order to address a subject matter well outside the range or interest of the modernists themselves,” referring to the traditional landscape in this case.
The four other paintings in “Switch 36” are newer non-figurative oils that carry forward his sense of theoretical abstraction. Heavy clear resin gives implied distance within the picture plane. High gloss sheen adds neo-contemporary flair to his paintings. We gaze down through the painting, lost thoughts trapped in the interior markings, but still guiding us into our own personal spiritual quest to discover suppressed virtuoso.