Unfinishing it

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On my recent visit to the home and studios of Bill and Jean Stephens, I got a look at a wall full of work Bill has been doing. The little grove of trees (where Jean built her human-sized nest of branches and twigs) fascinates Bill, and he’s been doing an extensive series of paintings and drawings inspired by it. Recently, he took a small suite of these paintings and sanded them down, erasing upper layers of the paint and revealing far more abstract and beautifully colored areas underneath: from representation back to abstraction with a technique that almost fits into the Japanese gutai sense of letting the erosion of materials become an essential part of how a work of art will turn out. In this case the erosion is intentional. I really like what he’s ending up with, though he may be tempted to reverse course and start finishing things more. But unfinishing a painting is an interesting idea. Take it back in time to something that wasn’t actually visible at any point along the way.

 

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