An open studio show on Sunday, April 27, was held at Stallman Studios, the living, working and creative spaces of Stephen Stum and Jason Hallman. Both artists have their individual artistic practices and beautiful works from each of them were installed in the space. For those who love collaborative work and seeing two creative minds come together, there was a special excitement to see pieces that Stum and Hallman created together. These pieces merge painting and sculpture into two distinct genres: Excavation works and Canvas Edged works.
Canvas Edged Works
In these structural works, the pigmented canvas strips—each hand cut and painted by the artists—are twisted and formed into dynamic, strongly textured compositions. Stallman Studios state, “The unique structures create a rich anatomy, reflecting their cellular inspiration.” The canvas sculptures reflect a dichotomy of structure versus flowing organism. In Chlorophyll, as in many of their pieces, the canvas strips seem to expand and contract, creating a maze of ovular shapes. Stum and Hallman tend to combine colors that flow naturally together. In some pieces, only the edge of the canvas is painted—intensifying the linear quality of the work. Stum and Hallman have begun to play with less controlled versions as well, with masses of canvas strips that pile up and enter the viewer’s space while retaining one’s sense of the picture plane. The canvas edge works by Stallman Studios explore the materiality of the medium of painting and thus fit into the art historical canon developed by Clement Greenberg. Greenberg’s philosophy, primarily centered on Jackson Pollock’s action painting, explored both the limitations and abilities of the medium. Stum and Hallman follow in a similar vein by exploring the possibilities of the essentials of paint and canvas.
In Stum and Hallman’s “Excavation” works, the paint is scraped away after a process of layering. Stum and Hallman refer to these layers of excavated paint as “acrylic geology.” These scraped layers recall exposed strata in the earth, formed over eons but existing in one state only moment by moment—an evocation of time and natural forces. The artwork this process exposes is unexpected and almost uncontrollable—a perfect contrast to the canvas edged pieces, which require structure and control.
Stum and Hallman’s canvas edged and excavation works evoke the natural environment in two unique ways. While the former illustrate a more organic, cellular sense of our world, the excavation works take on the mineral and crystalline component. As stated previously, there is a dichotomy between the control of the canvas edged pieces and the loose abstractions of the excavation works, but there is also a dichotomy in the subject matter itself. A sense of the cellular level in one genre and the geological in the other provides a perspective for both magnified detail versus “earth from above.”
This blend of the aesthetic and scientific as an approach to natural phenomena (and therefore human relations to and concepts of it) is a defining point to much art made in our region. The techniques of works by Stallman Studios might invite comparison to another local artist, Margie Livingston. In both cases, paint is layered and then cut away, making the aspects of the creative process readily apparent while retaining some mystery. Livingston stays more squarely in the realm of the abstract with her dense layering cut into precise blocks and spheres or piled up in linear strips. Stum and Hallman’s work is also abstract and invites multiple interpretations, but their combined aesthetic has a peculiar physicality and—for those familiar with their work as individuals—comes across as two voices singing in harmony.