Ian Stephenson 1934-2000
T01688 Quadrama IV 1969
Inscribed ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’, ‘4’, on the back on each canvas respectively.
Oil and enamel on four canvases, each 66 x 90(167.5 x 228.5).
Overall measurements 132 x 180 (335.5x 457) in preferred position.
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Exh: La Peinture Anglaise Aujourd’hui, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, February–March 1973 (63, repr.).
Lit: Edward Lucie-Smith, introduction to exhibition catalogue La Peinture
Anglaise Aujourd’hui, Paris 1973, pp.41–2.
Repr: Studio International, April 1973, p.161; Art International, April 1973, p.47.
The artist has edited a draft entry by the compiler based on a conversation of 22 May 1974 to provide the following catalogue note on ‘Quadrama IV’.
Ian Stephenson, a native of Northumbria, left the North of England for London in 1959 to return again from 1966–70. During this sojourn his paintings became much grander in scale and more massed in particles.
He has made paintings in two or more parts since the 1950s. His technical approach in the present painting has connections with the series of ‘Small Spray Studies’ done in 1962 to clarify the particular painting process with which he was involved. ‘It was “an attempt to bring form to something imprecise” without diminishing the randomness and piecemeal organic quality of approach he regards as essential.’ (Drawing Towards Painting II, exhibition catalogue, 1967). In these studies a square, and double or quadruple squares, may be cut from the area to be sprayed and turned during the process of painting according to a predetermined sequence of tones and colours and an increasing number of degrees. The series was envisaged as of infinite permutations. The ‘Diorama’ paintings of 1967, of which ‘Quadrama’ is a direct descendant, were practically the first paintings with more than one canvas which Stephenson made following a similar mechanical procedure, though the point at which the divided picture was turned in this case was more intuitively determined than in the drawings. If any change and exchange of colour took place whilst moving the inside to the outside and vice-versa then the defined area appears to return into itself as if unending. By 1969 Stephenson had made a number of further related paintings including some involving three and four canvases. The large and small versions of ‘Diorama’ were painted across both canvases simultaneously, but in a work the size of ‘Quadrama’ it was technically impossible to distribute the paint so far. Thus the process is repeated in each canvas separately. Numbers on the backs of the canvases record the order in which they were painted and subsequently, the order in which they are to be hung. Although they can be arranged in various ways to make an overall rectangle, Stephenson prefers these canvases to be hung in window form, one pair above the other so that the joins form a cross. These divisions form the structure of the painting. In an unpublished interview with Edward Lucie-Smith edited by the artist Stephenson concluded ‘By using... more than one canvas, one gets structure in these structureless pictures, yet the structure would not be the picture itself, but the gap between the pictures.’ Lucie-Smith in the Paris catalogue quotes a letter where the artist describes this four part work ‘with its panels of congruence and the attendant Cross of, perhaps, Heavenfield’—an ecclesiastical afterthought and romantic allusion affording a slight suggestion that if the work could no longer be representational in a straightforward sense it may be commemorative with representation occurring in the squeezed space betwixt the panels.
The window format retains the original positions of the parts in the studio and records the path traced by the artist as, of physical necessity, he walked between the canvases. Each canvas in a horizontal position on the floor was worked over from all sides rotating clockwise because he is right-handed. This process together with the relentless evening of the paint releases the whole work from the convention of top and bottom and in window form it becomes perhaps endless. There is no ‘turning the picture upside-down’ problem.
He also told the compiler that his interest in painting on such a large scale was to do with the way in which the nature of his stippled style changes in appearance according to the size of the surface. Indeed, it would be technically dishonourable from his point of view if he were to use a bigger brush to paint a bigger picture. The set of four paintings called ‘Quadrama’, of which this work is the last, were canvases painted over screens larger than their intended stretchers. This would allow the stippled surface to wrap round the edges although on completion each painting was removed and simply stored. The first version was exhibited at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1969 and in Newcastle in 1970 while the other two remain rolled-up and unseen.
Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.