Review of Stephens Art by Curator L.L. Powers,
Since the advent of photography made documentation relatively easy, fast and reproducible, the art of portraiture has undergone radical transformations. Our brains are hard wired to recognize faces and interpret their intentions, so the primacy of the face in our visual cortex is forever. Now, after 150 years of photography’s’ dominance as reality check, painting is once again revealing new aspects of the portrait. The art of Stephen Bennet is a powerful example of the potency of painting as a medium of communication.
These huge heads, tribal faces that our society considers primitive and “other”, enter our space with an exuberant, monumental presence. In their piercing frontal gaze we experience the shock of recognizing ourselves…even more, they seem to be observing us, peering into our reality as visitors from afar…we become the specimens on exhibit. We are the curiosity, they are the norm.
Unlike Chuck Close, whose portraits are dominated by and subsumed to the painting process,
Stephen Bennets’ portraits, while always aware of the formalisms of mark making, composition, color balance, and the ultimate reality of the picture plane, never lose touch with the humanity and character of their subjects. By shifting the color palette and emphasizing the paint application, the image is lifted from mundane ethnographic documentation to achieve a more expressive and insistent presence.
The sheer size of many of these works seems to invite us to scrutinize the intimate details of these faces. But their gaze invariably reminds us that this is family and only style differentiates us.
Bennets work truly shows us that we are part of the family of man, perhaps as we would be perceived by extraterrestrials, the differences between us little more than quirks of culture.