Mysterious figures in cascading robes and bird-like forms appear as if they are swirling around, caught in dance, in the background there is a recurrent, repetitive beat, a call to movement. There is life to them, or rather, a life force, an impression that they are breathing. They generate energy; sculptures positioned, but circling, promising the dance of the Sufi. As thick swathes of marble and stone whip and wrap around them we feel a sense of being caught up in a maelstrom, of being in that perfect moment of stillness within movement that is the eye of a raging storm. These sculptures – for that is what they are – stand throughout the gallery like sentinels, with a mind to breaking out. everywhen (8 September – 8 October 2017) at Kristin Hjellegjerde evokes sensations of stillness and movement, surrender and resistance, of past and present and future rolled into one moment in time. Featuring all new works, it marks British sculptor and painter Richard Stone’s third major exhibition at the gallery, marking a significant new direction in his practice.
In the past, Stone’s work has been largely concerned with what he refers to as a “reversal of making”, in which found objects were dipped in liquid wax to create interventions, and antique, landscape paintings were sanded down to reveal new, abstract identities. A new-found language in sculpture and painting has emerged, continuing to draw on the rich tapestry of art history, inspired by the colour palettes of the great masters as well as a plethora of diverse art historical, literary and pop cultural references, from the impact of the sublime in Caspar David Friedrich to the poignancy of narratives such as Tristan and Isolde to the songs of the artist’s soundtrack that drive his making.
These new works are significant not only for a complete letting go of the found object and a more personal archaeology, but also for a far bolder colour palette, as Stone moves away from the dreamier hues of Turner to flashes of Kandinsky. While they evoke a more modern art history, there still remains a romantic looking back, but this time a keener awareness of past and current events, as personal and cultural reference points crash and collide, becoming distorted, and ultimately revealing something more authentic in their wake. We sense a questioning of our place within the wider world, a heightened awareness of Stone’s land of cultural origin and its art icons, as well as hints of emblematic ivy, heraldic shields, ruins, nature and the freedom of birds. They meld to form a narrative of the local and the international, British yet pan-European. They tell a tale of past and present – a story-telling rather than image-making – a reflecting on things that have transpired and things that are yet still to be.
As such, where previous work had a fixity to them, of being shrouded and caught mid-action in stasis, these new works embody lightness and movement. There was a hint of this direction in previous works, such as only in the ruins will you be free (2014), a rippling Statuario marble flag, yet in recent years Stone has pushed this concept of movement in a completely new direction. Here, many of the figures bring to mind sentinels, dignified figures, who stand simultaneously against and within vitality, or resistance. This force which animates the sculptures remains a mystery – perhaps it is the life force, or the force of history, of a land in flux. holding on to the end of history, a figure that comprises two abstracted bird forms has all the vivid animation of clashing beaks and loving, preening feathers, a love-hate, push-pull that dissolves into myriad ripples; feathers, a cliff face, teeming life, all of this and none of it, all at once.
Birds make an understated but palpable appearance in the accompanying paintings as well. Where the sculptures dominate the main space of the gallery, they are surrounded by paintings full of evocations of dappled sunlight and visions of earthly beauty veiled in the mists of time. The illusion of the gentle light of a forest clearing, of bruised sea spray, or the rattle of autumn leaves and heraldic grandeur in the kiss of winding ivy and oak, or the soft rustle of birds’ wings that lingers on the edges of your hearing. These birds become leitmotifs that come and go, calling, as it were, to the sentinels they surround. Symbols of freedom and air, perhaps these sentinels desire to become birds, or bird becomes sentinel and together they are free? But what are these sentinels guarding or moving against? A country? A past? What country? What past? For Stone, all of these questions remain in flux. They are caught in what is perhaps best described as an ‘English dreaming’, an artist’s dreaming, myth and history swirling around them as they hurtle through the present and into the future. Day becomes night, night becomes day, cloud fields flash above us in the sky as the globe rotates relentlessly around the sun, giving way to stars and stars giving way to light.
These sentinels, these artworks, they are timeless and they stand through it all, a symbol of making and undoing, a continuous state of becoming. The world moves, the earth moves, yesterday and today are as they ever were and time stands still and artists resist.