Ian Stephenson 1934-2000
T01689 Parental Palette 1959
Inscribed ‘escutcheon / Father’s Palette / Hunwick 1959/ Ian Stephenson / Parental Palette’ on the back support and (stencilled) on the back of the frame Tan Stephenson / Escutcheon / Parental Palette / Hunwick County Durham 1959’.
Oil on mahogany palette with nail on plywood board, 16½ x14 (42 x 35.5).Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Exh: Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, October 1970 (9,repr.).
Ian Stephenson has edited a draft entry by the compiler based on a conversation of 22 May 1974 to provide the following catalogue note on ‘Parental Palette’.
The artist, recently married, was about to leave his home in the north country at the time of the completion of this work, although he was always to return regularly two or three times a year on visits.
‘Parental Palette’ is a further work from the series of object paintings which Stephenson made at his parent’s house in Hunwick near Bishop Auckland (see T01690). Some incorporated painting paraphernalia; other objects used as supports at this time included a breadboard, screen, door, clock, window and various domestic things. This instance was one of the few examples where the object painted has an emotive value, and this fact, together with the real artistic nature of the support itself, demanded fineness, almost delicacy, in the application of the paint. A fineness less apparent in much of the contemporaneous work and in contrast to the much more textured surfaces painted earlier in the same year when the artist lived for a few months in Italy.
In fact the painting was begun before Stephenson left for Italy when he attached the palette to the board. It was hung from the nail and allowed to swing back and forth until it came to its resting place. Naturalism prevailed in the positioning. The artist remembers with some relief, that like no other painting before, the nail dictated regardlessly which way up the image had to be when completed. He believes that it was spattered with paint at this time. It was completed soon after he returned. The majority of these objects were glue-sized but not primed white (cf.T01690) and as this work was lightly painted the basic red-brown colour of the wood predominates. Painted with a fine brush, the mass of tiny strokes is laced with the linear traces which are so marked a feature of the later ‘Parachrome’ (T00706). An almost imperceptible illusion of nail heads or holes running in a row vertically down the right side suggests finality to one edge of the panel mount—reminiscent of other works, such as ‘Cubo-Particle Painting’ (Newcastle 1970catalogue, 8, repr.), made on found panels. The word ‘escutcheon’ written on the back refers to the central pin as well as the image and was at one time a possible title although eventually it was given to another work. The presence of the palette nailed to the centre of the picture plane gave a new freedom: in re-presenting reality the paint-marks were redeemed from illustrative illusion. Stephenson sees the paint as changing and ennobling the nature of the surface. The paint in this kind of work conceals and reveals. This relates to his more recently expressed view that all painting is essentially camouflage (Ian Stephenson, ‘Remarks’, One, April 1974, p.13).
In addition to ‘Parental Palette’ and ‘Dipper Palette’ (Newcastle1970 catalogue, 10,repr.) Stephenson used other wooden palettes in various ways at this time. He made some further palette pictures in 1961—the ‘Protopalette’ series, which use disposable palettes made of waxed paper. In some they seem to appear and disappear, to sink into the surface between the paint and support, enhanced by the way they have been primed with white polish to become transparent and finally varnished. In others the image is multiple and more visible, built up from a cluster of palettes. Yet others are all palette, unmounted.
The title ‘Parental Palette’ implies more than a simple reference. His father, an erstwhile amateur artist, whose palette it was, provided in the beginning an ideal of detail and continuous surface interest which have remained essential throughout Stephenson’s career. The way that the palette hangs askew from a nail has a Cubist trompe l’oeil parallel, but it was inspired by the way many of his father’s things were hung in a garden shed. Painters, Stephenson believes, are born not made; so that the homage is to the innate sense of his father’s own style within himself and to the simple fact of his fathering him.
Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.