Murmurations and runes

Bill Stephens has been doing something that strikes me as new, though he may not see it that way. He’s using fine-tipped pens to apply inks in varied colors to mixed-media paintings and, though extremely fine lines are his wheelhouse, the effect is different in the new work. There’s a jittery but shimmering quality to the almost pointillist throng of hatch marks in the new work. In his black and white drawings, the tiny white marks look like scratches applied to a black coat of paint on a white surface, but they are actually white ink, each mark one among what appear to be thousands that sweep across the surface like a murmuration of starlings or particulates of smoke or very fine cloth swaying in a breeze. It gives the effect of seeing a massive migration through space, souls swept helplessly along in Dante, say, or just ants marching across sand. The shapes as a whole also look geographic or meteorological, seen from space. At the same time, Stephens is using different tiny marks, more like runes, in other brilliantly colored work, again colored inks against complementarily colored grounds in highly saturated tones. The effect is entirely different, more like the quality of light off a cathedral in Monet. In both modes, he’s capturing the febrile quality of awareness itself: constantly in flux, quiet and still and barely moving in the dark work, yet intensely alive and shimmering with a kind of static bliss in full color.

You can see this work at the current member show at Mill Art Center. 

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