Raw – Stefany Hemming

Hollow, Oil on Panel, Stefany Hemming, 20 x 20 inches

I happened to be down at the Elliot Louis Gallery again last month just after the Stefany Hemming show went up.

In this, her second show at the Elliott Louis Gallery, Hemming is depicting tangles of twigs, roots and vines in swirling masses, often evoking nests, but sometimes just providing huge natural-like pattern fields.

The panels she works on are large and it is sometimes just this factor of size that makes these works remarkable.  The mark making process seems to be so freely made without hesitation as if error and second considerations were simply impossible. It makes for  very freshly executed paintings and on such grand scale paintings, this is both physically and emotionally demanding.

I examined the paintings from afar and from up close. It’s one of my ways of determining the intrinsic value of a work of art.   Does it look as freshly painted  up close as it does far away? Does the pattern read from afar or get lost in a blur? Is the surface of the painting finished or does it lack consistency upon closer inspection? Is there overall composition in the far view; and is there sufficient interest in the near one?

What fascinated me about these images was just that freshness that has been achieved in laying down the paint. It seems to have arrived in one single gestural stroke going round and round. And yet the overlapping of the ribbon-like shapes shows no pulling through of the paint. It’s controlled and meticulous, and there are subtle variations of tone that had to be added in later. It’s a mystery as to how it is achieved.

Hollow (detail) Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

I suspect that the whole “ground” of the painting is covered with a fairly liquid oil paint of a single colour and then a scraper is used to gesturally scrape through, leaving bands of the under colour to emerge as the figure. Then touch ups must be made to achieve that seemingly-effortless crossing of lines and the clarification of what is forward and what is behind in the overlapping of the ribbon shapes.

Gather, Stefany Hemming, Oil on panel

From a practicing artist’s point of view, the technical process is unique. From an imagery point of view, there has been almost a fad of nest imagery and another of pattern fields.  Hemming’s work surmounts the ordinary through her meticulous process, her gestural freedom and the sheer magnitude of the imagery.

Thicket, Stefany Hemming,  oil on panel

Hemming describes her art exploration as  an ” obsessive, ritualistic, instinctive practice which embodies all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real. It promotes painting as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity.”

In this,  I can relate that the act of painting of the imagery may be obsessive, ritualistic and instinctive, but the end result has a feel which is none of these. Instead, these large works are quiet, still images.

This is perhaps because the composition is overall. There is no story to tell. The nests are empty; the balls of string static; the branch-like structures do not go anywhere.  As such, Hemmings description of her work as embodying “all the contingency, uncertainty and instability of the real… and … as documentation of the intangible, evidence of one’s humanity,” does not work for me.

There is nothing here for the viewer to link evidence of one’s humanity. The objects that are depicted are tangible and recognizable. There is no message coming through of contingency, uncertainty nor instability.

For me, this is typical example of art-speak – the ascription of esoteric  language  to justify one’s work; and what is written is disconnected with the imagery.

Having said that, I find these works interesting, particularly in terms of technique. They represent a quality of contemporary work that remains at once abstract and representational at the same time. For me, these large works are beautiful for their gestural freedom,  for their timelessness and their stillness.

There’s still time to see the exhibit at the Elliott Louis Gallery,  at: #1 – 258 East 1st Avenue, Vancouver, B.C.

For a greater selection of her paintings, see her work on the web at :

http://www.elliottlouis.com/dynamic/exhibit_artist.asp?ExhibitID=399

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2 Responses to “Raw – Stefany Hemming”

  1. Silvia Says:

    Hi, I enjoy the organic feel to S.Hemming’s paintings. Fab work!

  2. Stephen Says:

    Hey K
    thanks for showing this work. I used to think about trying to do this in watercolour but gave up – perhaps too soon – this is a tribute to what can happen when someone works to develop technique. Which I find inspiring.
    And I like what she does with her technique – very beautiful.

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