"I find inspiration in the architecture of Nature. Inspiration is found from local walks, across the South Dorset Ridgeway; where the perspective of this unique landscape is greatly altered by walking up local hilltops..."
Stephen’s paintings are mostly worked en plein air, in acrylics worked largely with a palette knife or watercolour. He produces hand-built and wheel-thrown ceramics in his home studio pottery. Making great art is a deep passion of his, this leads to participation in ‘journeys’ across both land and water and Stephen sees it as part of the ‘human condition. From this search for peace comes an urge to create. Not based on thought, but based on feeling. Feeling, work and more work. Stephen’s artwork in both Ceramics and Painting has been described as a ‘Cipher’, a code, which reveals itself through his own personal marks of expression. Stephen is a teacher with vast experience of leading groups in both disciplines.
Stephen will be exhibiting with Holly Yates, his partner, at Dorset Art Weeks. Holly and Stephen almost always show their work together, so DAW is no exception! Holly explores the extremes of what textiles can be, by innovative and experimental work combining fiber with ceramic clays and acrylic media, and layering shadow embroidery on sheer fabrics with other works. Drawing is at the core of all her work.
What is your artistic practice and what inspires you?
I don’t see that there is any division between my Ceramics and paintings. I see both as purely medium. This becomes a way of expressing my vision, through sketchbooks, photography and mock-ups. I am currently working on two strands and developing ideas leading to finished work. Firstly, one inspired by my daily walks here on Portland, a truly inspirational place to record and watch the light, colour and tides change and shift along the shorelines. This leads to ‘making marks’ on canvas, paper and clay. Experimenting with the textures and colour of this beautiful seascape.
Secondly, I find inspiration in the architecture of Nature. Inspiration is found from local walks, across the South Dorset Ridgeway; where the perspective of this unique landscape is greatly altered by walking up local hilltops, previously occupied by ancient ancestors and all along the Jurassic coastline, which is unrivalled in its variety. This is a collaborative exhibition with; two other Artists; Holly and Jinny Jehu and Dorset County Museum. I also have extensive experience in teaching Art and Design and Technology in Secondary Schools. I have worked locally in Dorset schools, and as an advisor for schools nationally on best practice.
Is there something about Dorset that inspires you?
My move to a new location on the Island of Portland was a terrific step, which I have mentioned earlier. My first Dorset Art Weeks was in 2012, where I discovered a whole range and variety of Artists, many whom are still friends now! I loved visiting other ‘Open Studios’ and taking part in the ‘Interrogating Landscapes’ Project run by Dorset Visual Arts. A real chance to collaborate and see other artist’s practice.
Where did your art journey start? What made you pursue or even fall in love with your practice?
As a Boy aged 9, I recall the Head teacher Mr. Hopwood in my Primary school, providing some oil pastels for me to draw a collection of his roses from his own garden. I always felt that I had some ‘giftedness’. At my Secondary School, in Yorkshire, I was so lucky to experience a thorough ‘Practical’ Education in Art, and Design in Wood Metal and Clay. During the Study of the History of Art A’ Level, in the Sixth Form, I was greatly encouraged by my Art teacher, to visit Art Colleges in both York and Leeds. I saw firsthand the work of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth! at local exhibitions. My Dad was a Coal Miner and told me to get a job! I was the first member of my family to go to University, and I became a teacher. It was a thoroughly great career. The only problem was the time to give to my own work was confined to holiday periods in the Summer. Since retirement in 2011, I found time, built a studio and made Art during a period of great changes to my life to be able to find my passion.
How has the pandemic affected or influenced your practice?
This has been a very difficult time for all creative. On the negative side, both Holly and I have experienced prestigious exhibitions going into ‘Mothballs’ during the Lockdown, our work last year both at Walford Mill, Wimbourne and The Etches Collection Gallery, Kimmeridge had to be closed, then re-opened. All of my teaching opportunities dried up.
The positives were the ‘new directions.’ I searched and found a source of local Clay in West Weares, Portland. I collected it sieved it and made it workable and discovered it has a low temperature tolerance. I experimented with Khadi paper and clay mixed together to mold and shape into nets, to form waves and constructed forms wrapped around pebbles found on the beach. I realized that I was going to have to work in a different way, developing on-line digital materials and video instruction to continue teaching. I have identified and am working with two school groups currently Sunninghill Prep and Westfield Arts College. I have also identified a group of ‘Vulnerable Women from the community, here on Portland, who are all asking to do some clay work. All of these groups will create ‘installation’ type work for the DCM exhibition. Both Holly and I have been featured by B-side Arts organization, based here, they have created large posters of local creativity during the pandemic and displayed the posters in the windows of their ‘Outpost’. In January 2021, I decided to do a challenge to paint a watercolour every day. This reminded me that ‘overnight success is hard’ and I will get there by working at it every day.
What are you most looking forward to at Dorset Art Weeks this year? Are there any projects that you are particularly excited to showcase?
It is very difficult to think about inviting people into the studio! That stated, we will work on curating it and use video and virtual exhibitions, of us both doing and demonstrating our practice. We are working on ‘new ways’ of working to showcase specific pieces of work in the development and making.