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STEFAN & Story of O

"EROTIC OSCAR" Finalist 2000 (UK)

'Stories of O' - "Gorgeous paintings" Skin Two

British artist Stefan has secured over the past six years a deserved reputation amongst a small number of collectors and devotees for a series of large oil paintings inspired by the French novel Story of O. Borrowing elements from the book Stefan has created a visual narrative richly colored and full of theatrical motifs such as burning candles, keys, masks, and draught blown curtains. In darkened rooms and cloistered gardens Stefan has caught his protagonists in freeze-frame and each frame has as its focal point a semi-clad femme enfant with a sharp black 'bob' reminiscent of silent movie star Louise Brooks. Though intentionally erotic nothing is explicit and the viewer is invited to conjure his own interpretation of events, one or two of which are lifted directly from the novel.
Stefan first read the book in the 1970's shortly after it was published in Britain for the first time. By 1978 he was attempting to develop a small series of paintings inspired by the novel. Unable to achieve totally satisfying results Stefan put the 'O' project on a back burner pursuing other concerns and inspirations for eighteen years. Marks on a small canvas suggesting a face hinted at the possibility of a fully fledged 'O' series in the autumn of 1995. In his most recent work Stefan still explores the new found freedom of that initial tiny canvas and continues to seek out new ways of representing a certain eroticism not readily found elsewhere.

The "O" Paintings of Stefan

- by artist, photographer, collector, Noel Myles

Is there a visual equivalent to being out of breath? I imagine mopping my perspiring brow, feeling slightly dizzy at events that are beyond my control. You are not allowed to take it easy or let your mind wander. In these cramped spaces there are no visual escape routes. Even the stars turn you back.

There is a pressure in Stefan's paintings that I haven't seen elsewhere. this is caused by something other than the powerful subject matter. It is the PAINT that makes these scenarios come off the canvas and into my room where I watch. It is the drawing, the structure, the colour and the brush-work that makes these actors invade my personal space.

How is this achieved? The middle distance is placed on the picture plane; often a strong, intense advancing red, with the background just behind it. The result is the foreground, with its luminous greens, tactile pinks and slippery blacks, stands in front of the picture plane. When a door opens it opens into your own room and not into the picture and these people are about to come in without knocking.

As a consequence there is a power here that far exceeds illustration. Although Stefan has taken STORY OF O as his inspiration the paintings have an autonomous life that is independent of the book. Something is about to happen and if you watch quietly and do not draw attention to yourself you will witness it. But you will not be a guest.

As for the sexuality in the pictures, these are not languid and easily compliant women, gazing patiently out from a pictorial chaise-longue, allowing you to take your time before entering. This is not the fleshy voyeurism of Rubens or Renoir. The psychological and painterly rigor found in Stefan's paintings is inseparably bound in an uneasy tension and it is this quality and his passion for the subject that puts him out on a limb with respect to art galleries and museums. These paintings are dangerously dodgy. In spite of all their in-yer-face, cutting-edge protestations, there are too many well-heeled galleristes out there to misunderstand. Tread here and you could be in a politically incorrect quicksand. But how readily we accept Toulouse-Lautrec's bar and brothel women: Picasso's pictures hinting that he will have sexual congress with more than one orifice of today's model before the sitting is over. These pictures made impotent by another form of bondage, reproduced and diluted in art historical surveys, soft compliant criticism and greetings cards.

So Stefan takes a stand in erotica fairs and festivals. He displays his drawings and paintings alongside stiletto heel cobblers, studded leather workers and latex clothiers. Here he finds props and faces for his tasks.

I wonder how mutual is the benefit. How many market-goers will recognize such astonishingly fine paintings, incongruously displayed on their home territory?

Noel Myles October 1999


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