SKINNING is an evocative and powerful show of new drawings and paintings by Kristin Stephenson (Hollis) that rounds off the JSG exhibition programme for 2020. Works range from the three striking Headset drawings prominently occupying the main wall in the front gallery, to paintings on paper and canvas, some containing text, others textural, and many with a restrained palette. In a gatefold produced for the exhibition, Felicity Milburn writes:
"The twitchy, haphazard text of Kristin Stephenson's LOCKDOWN Day 15 (2020) projects a ragged futility. 'I AM Calm & ZEnLikE' it insists, the adamant opening swiftly yielding to agitation and uncertainty. A confusion of jumbled cases, hurried erasures and the stubborn vestiges of earlier iterations, it's a 'fake-it-till-you-make-it' manifesto in a time where plans change as quickly as you can make them and Zen-like calm is a wry punchline rather than an aspiration. Planet Earth, 2020: is this ringing any bells for you?
Stephenson's new works may be frayed and fraught, but they're underpinned by a formidable technical skillset and a keen sense of humour. She's as likely to draw inspiration from a high-end clothing tag as Colin McCahon (although Lockdown deploys both at once) and a closer look at those apparently spontaneous surfaces reveals a carefully judged choreography of mark-making. Paint over pencil, pencil over paint, brushstrokes massed upward into feathery clouds or rubbed over with charcoal until they bristle like hair. She uses colour sparingly, and her palette is an uneasy one, thick with toxic yellows and febrile pinks. LUST glows white hot against dingy green; propelling us into a room lit only by late-night doom-scrolling. With a thief's eye for detail, Stephenson scans her surroundings, stockpiling points of friction that disrupt the slow even slide of the everyday. These are works full of cover-ups and also revelations; what first seems confronting – a beady gaze, a masked figure, the shark-like overhang of a stranger's mouth – can also disclose a surprising vulnerability.
Ironically, it's when her works are at their most fretful that Stephenson's growing assurance becomes apparent. There's a new comfort with discomfort, a willingness to let the seams and edges show. What waits behind the zip we pull together to keep everything respectable? Wary, but curious; weathered, but never cowed, she's turning these canvases into gear-shifts and toeholds, frontline dispatches from the time of Covid."
Press release courtesy Jonathan Smart Gallery.