Catalogue entry

Ian Stephenson b.1934

T01690 Sideboard Abstraction 1957

Inscribed ‘Ian Stephenson 1957’b.r. and (stencilled) on the back of the box frame ‘Ian Stephenson/Sideboard Abstraction/Hunwick Co. Durham1957’·
Oil and metal paint on hardboard and wooden picture frame, 19 ¾ x 16¾ (50 x 42.5).
Purchased from the artist (Grant-in-Aid) 1972.
Exh: Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, October 1970 (5,repr.).
Lit: Andrew Forge, ‘The Development of Ian Stephenson’s Painting’, Studio International, November 1968, reprinted in the catalogue of Stephenson’s exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle 1970.

The artist has edited a draft entry by the compiler based on a conversation of 22May1974 to provide the following catalogue note on ‘Sideboard Abstraction’.

Ian Stephenson having declined a place to study at the Royal College of Art in the preceding year, was still at the University of Durham as a tutorial student when this picture was painted.

The painting followed a small series of canvases in the artist’s possession each 24 in. x 20 in., three of which titled ‘Still-life Abstraction: DI’, ‘DII’, ‘DIII’ are of clear cubist intent. In this work a futurist feeling for form was introduced, and yet it reverts back to abstract paintings of 1955–6in the pictorial use of an actual frame.

As on previous occasions he removed some ornamentation from the frame, here powder blue rather than gilt, because it was important to him that although he might be painting on an object, as a painting, its surface should still be essentially flat (cf.T01689). Some blue paint remained and is still visible. The oval inscribed around the composition has no still-life reference. It is a cubist convention which complements the rectangular real frame on which it and the picture are painted. The template used to draw this motif was itself a frame and provided in turn the support for another painting made sometime afterwards.

The subject of this painting was a shelf at one end of a mirrored sideboard in the family home at Hunwick. The shelf was square and may be seen tilted forward at the centre of the composition. Resting on two legs, its construction was not altogether unlike a small chair; a fact that probably attracted him to the subject as chairs had been a favourite theme. The piece of furniture was of Spanish mahogany and had a dark, maroon red sheen. It would seem that the word ‘sideboard’ in the title refers as much to the framing surround of the work as to the subject matter. The terms ‘abstraction’ or ‘abstract’ were often used in titling up to this time. In ‘Sideboard Abstraction’ the forces of Futurism radiate from cubist still-life only to be contained in turn by the cubist vignette as if Cubism through its convention was preventing Futurism from becoming fully operational throughout the space of the room. Although the two movements co-exist and are stylistically almost the same thing, there is much that is complicated and contradictory. The illusionary oval frame is more emphatic and effective at framing than the real frame. Deflections from picture plane to picture frame echo the reflections refracted along the bevel of the mirror which comes into the picture from the right. The bevelled edge is seen at the top right as a sliver of light contravening the aforesaid laws of the two framing systems when it asserts itself up to the mitre at that corner. A coincidence of light, scumbled over a wadge of pigment. Other interlocking slabs of paint made with a palette knife are grouped nearby. The artist believes that the glazes and delicate white washes below to the right originated in the mirror. Artist’s brushes in a vase are represented at the top left of the picture. Across this area a small cascade of particles finds itself free of the formal structure, and this capricious condition was to become prevalent in later paintings.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1972–1974, London 1975.