Review – Brian Keith Stevens at Axelle Fine Arts

November 16, 2010

Axelle New York is rebranding itself as Axelle Bertrand Delacroix Gallery. Always curious about why a successful business chooses a rebranding strategy.

But there’s no need to be curious about Axelle’s choosing to feature Brian Keith Stephens in a solo show.

Stephens best work has a dreamy, almost otherworldly quality. You have the sense of being part of a dreamscape, with shifting focus and compelling presence.

Stephens best work uses broad background strokes to create a context wgich may include unpainted segments of canvas. Then he uses density to create the reality of his subject, juxtaposing the ambiguous background with his dimensional subject.

This doesn’t mean that all of his paintings are equally successful. The worst ones have something of a ‘paint by numbers’ feel where color edge meets color edge, no blending, blurring or overlay. Also, most og the paintings have added materials, there to trick your eye into adding depth.

Stephens has a wonderful sense of color. His colors are strong and dramatic, not always based in reality, but contributing to the vitality of his vision.

His creatures are wonderfully alive. They may seem to be suggestions or memories, not wholly defined – but they have presence, personality and insistence. They seem almost like antique pieces at times. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chicken, sheep or donkey. You know them – and you like them. It’s like saying hello to a friend.

The same isn’t true of his people. These characters are like ghosts of individuals and rather disturbing. I find them unpleasant but can recognize the quality of their construction.

Overall, this is an excellent show from a compelling painter who, I hope, will learn that he doesn’t need to add tricks to make his work interesting.

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