Now more than ever the beach is a refuge from constant bad news. As fires burn and smoke chokes us, I am more relieved than ever to visit and paint our local surf. And as visits to the beach have been complicated by the pandemic, it's even a greater relief to swim away from the shore and have the whole ocean to yourself for a brief time.
As I leave the sand and wade into the water, I can leave man-made troubles and confront something that is natural and powerful. I imagine the surf as a place where Nietzsche meets Hollywood – a place where surface, light and image get crunched up in the waves and merge with something deep and profound. The desire to let that transformative feeling cross over into the rest of my life is why I paint waves.
Water does not have a form; it adapts to forms created by energy. There is something kind of futile yet exciting about capturing the effect of water in a painting. There is no start or end point, just a fragment of an experience contained within a square or rectangle. To feel closer to that experience, I use an open-ended painting process, starting at a single point or corner of the canvas and moving across it. My eye is always moving back and forth between light and form, always trying to decide which is more important as I move along. Sometimes these extended moments of decision-making elicit an expansive feeling. Sometimes it feels everything is getting lost in formlessness, and then there's a struggle to bring it back.
Occasionally I will add a pelican, a bit of land or a boat so the painting can be anchored and the viewer has a chance to exit the surf. But usually I want the feeling of the excitement of being swept and thrashed around by something way bigger than us. In this sense, my paintings are less about capturing the traditional beauty of the local beaches, and more about the energy and transformational qualities of the Southern California surf.
Stephen graduated with a degree in graphic design from Cal State in Long Beach, CA. He has exhibited across the US and most recently at Gallery Henoch in NY and Subliminal Gallery in Los Angeles.