John Stephan 2010
John Stephan: Spheres of Light
February 20 - April 3, 2010
For the last thirty years of his life, John Stephan (1906–1995) devoted himself exclusively to the painting of discs: luminous orbs floating in squares of carefully nuanced color. Each ‘disc’ is wreathed by a series of circles, halos of a sort, in provocatively contrasting hues. Depending on the width and tonality of the surrounding color bands, the monochrome central disc either radiates forward into the space or recedes back away from the viewer. Whether the paintings appear to be coming or going, they all possess an otherworldly energy: a perfect synergy of forcefulness and tranquility.
Prior to these last disc paintings, Stephan worked as a WPA artist throughout the 1930’s and, after the war, played an important part in the development of American Abstract Expressionism. He showed with the highly influential gallerist Betty Parsons in NYC and was closely associated with Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Barnett Newman.
In addition to his pioneering work as an artist, Stephan published The Tiger’s Eye, one of the most extraordinary art and literary magazines of the time (1947–49). He designed the publication that featured European and American surrealists, the Latin American avant-garde and a veritable who’s who of the fledgling Abstract Expressionist movement.
Inspired by William Blake’s immortal poem, The Tiger (“Tiger, tiger, burning bright...”), Stephan used The Tiger’s Eye to champion the sovereignty and power of his and every artist’s pioneering vision. His beguiling abstraction used as the cover of each issue, a geometric deconstruction of a tiger’s visage, reflects the artist’s uncanny abilities as well as his profoundly metaphysical concerns. Both of which are displayed to great and magical effect in this final painting series.
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