Stephen P. Curry | Compositions

By Sue Keller

Pageant [1997], oil, 32 x 26.,painting, southwest art.
Pageant [1997], oil, 32 x 26.

Stephen P. Curry’s approach to painting is filled with self-imposed rigor. He creates his still lifes with multiple glazes of oil a difficult medium to master. And he often renders objects to near-perfection before rubbing parts of them out completely. Curry also rejects traditional depth of field, preferring to drop his objects into ambiguous voids and paint a fog around them. He may add colors that clash with those already laid down, forcing him to alter the existing tones to bring everything back into harmony.

There might be a simpler way to create a still-life painting, but it wouldn’t satisfy Curry. His painstaking techniques create a world of luscious color and sensuous shapes that draws the viewer in. “Many artists today don’t consider their audience at all,” Curry says, “but my works are conversations with the viewer. I want each person to come away with a unique experience, depending upon what he or she brings to it.”

Before Curry begins a painting, he selects produce with character he looks for dings, blemishes, and odd shapes. Then he arranges them in something akin to a casual group portrait: Some lean against one another, others stand upright or lie on their sides. Under Curry’s touch, they take on human characteristics.

Glare [1997], oil, 35 x 45.,painting, southwest art.
Glare [1997], oil, 35 x 45.

“People tend not to notice the inherent beauty in ordinary objects like fruits and vegetables,” Curry says. But he focuses attention on them by enlarging them beyond their normal size many of his canvases measure 5 by 6 feet.

Recently Curry has broadened his sub-ject matter to in-clude birds, both to keep things fresh and to avoid being categorized solely as a “fruit-and-vegetable” man. The sprightly avians in his new paintings, which were captured on film in his back yard, animate his compositions with their delicate colors and forms.

After growing up in San Diego, CA, Curry attended the San Francisco Art Institute from 1987-90. Although his teachers gave him valuable insights into the harsh realities of the art world, he refused to believe one professor who said that he would have to choose between political and “romantic” art. Curry has since realized that meaning and beauty aren’t mutually exclusive.

While studying art history, Curry discovered 17th-century Baroque artists such as Caravaggio and Zurburan, who used strong contrasts of light and dark to create their re-markable illusions on canvas. Curry also studied abstract expressionism, and echoes of Willem de Koon-ing, Franz Kline, and Philip Guston are apparent in his active and dynamic compositions. He is also drawn to the still lifes of Northern California realist painter Wayne Thiebaud [B1920 CA], who, like Curry, successfully combines elements of realism and abstraction.

For Curry, the toughest part of the artistic process is preparation: choosing the objects, arranging and lighting them (always bright, low light from one side), roughing in shapes, and noting details with charcoal, pencil, or crayon.

“My paintings show nature without human presence—there’s no cut or sliced fruit,” he points out. “I prefer to express the objects as shape and form rather than food. When I paint, I try to put aside the subject and immerse myself in the process. If I focus on the subject, the painting becomes stiff and unconvincing.”

Curry begins by laying on four thin coats of oil paint, which he likes for its “luscious, seductive quality.” His colors are often at war with one another, creating an n edginess that keeps the viewer slightly off-balance. It’s Curry’s way of implying that nothing is perfect, not even the ideal world he creates on canvas.

Curry does not dwell on the meaning of a painting or title it until it’s complete. Wary of influencing the viewers’ response to his work, Curry selects ambiguous titles. For example, one painting of a group of pears is called Pilgrimage, another Limbo, and a third Asylum. “Titles are always a struggle,” Curry says.

Curry grew up knowing he would be connected to art in some way. Upon finishing art school, he set a goal for himself—to become an established painter within 10 years. Eight years later, he’s well on his way to that goal.

Photos courtesy of Stephen P. Curry and Koplin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA.

Featured in April 1998