Photos by Tiffany Bri
With innovative ideas and techniques, the work of Seattle natives Stephen Stum and Jason Hallman has gained international attention. The duo work together under the name Stallman and merge the precision of high quality paint and color techniques with that of fine sculpture in a process they call Canvas on Edge. (Strips of canvas are turned on their side to create fluid designs.) The two speak of it as if one artist “acts as the right side of the brain and the other the left,” to create a synthesis of nuanced color and elegant form.
Stum and Hallman were kind enough to once again welcome Vanguard Seattle into their artistic space in Langley. (Arts writer Claire Reiner last visited them in their studio in 2013.) Photographer Tiffany Bri and I together made the journey to Whidbey Island. The trip itself was inspiring, with astounding views of vibrant colors and natural textures that would move any artist to further create.
The capacious studio is in the Old Bayview Schoolhouse in Langley, a couple of miles inland from town. We were greeted by warmth and enthusiasm as Stephen and Jason welcomed us in, rocking their paint-covered work clothes. Despite their growing reputation, they maintain a humble and friendly demeanor, and their affectionate marriage of minds is as evident in their company as in their layered, sensual works.
The pair are masters of color, achieving sumptuous combinations and ombre effects. They showed us the room used solely to paint the massive sheets of canvas, which would then be cut and transformed into Canvas on Edge pieces. All the canvases that they have painted over the years have left a gorgeous mess of color on the floor. Stephen and Jason joked about their attachment to the accidental artwork, and shared that they would most definitely save it when it came to time to either relocate or replace it. (Even now, they have a part of a previous studio floor with the marks of canvases painted there.)
The artists shared the process of their work, beginning with the manual cutting of each strip. This only begins to display how much work and time goes into making one of these pieces. I asked how much planning generally goes into each piece. “Depends on which one of us you’re asking,” they answered with a laugh. Stephen, who comes from a design background, generally prefers a rough sketch laid out before the actual construction. Jason’s has a knack for jumping in and improvising. As Stephen explains, Jason is able to abstract the ideas that may be too “linear,” and vice versa. This combination of mindsets results in the best of both creative worlds, and is evident in the final pieces.
Stephen and Jason talked about the various reasons behind their move to Whidbey. To start, finding a large enough studio space in Seattle was proving difficult. After trying to maintain two separate studios in cramped Seattle spaces, the logical move was to explore other cities in a hunt for more square footage and to escape the skyrocketing rents. But at a deeper level, the move out to Island Country brought new inspiration from nature. Their earlier pieces include titles such as “Organelle” and “Mitochondria,” and reflect their interest in microbiology; Stephen and I geeked out as I shared that my first experience with one of their pieces made me think of an Endoplasmic Reticulum.
An appreciation of the elemental world comes through Stallman’s work, and the artists spoke on the importance of water (obvious in their pieces’ fluidity and vibrant blues), and their love of plants and greenery. The beautiful blues and greens of the Pacific Northwest, so evocative of the Sound and vast expanses of evergreens, can be found in many of their pieces. Indeed, after Jason and Stephen articulated that they find natural beauty apparent even when plants are potted or confined to greenhouses, I began to see that in their pieces. The works tend to evoke a similar sort of contained chaos, as the waves of color almost appear to want to leap out of the frame.
It seems as though the move to Whidbey was an inspired decision for Stallman, as the space and surroundings further their creative output. Even their location in the Old Schoolhouse creates an atmosphere of learning and collective growth. However, they get to the city often enough for their gallery shows. Stallman has had work displayed at several galleries in the Seattle area, including their most recent exhibit at the Hall-Spassov Gallery. They are currently showing selected pieces nationwide, including at NYC’s Cheryl Hazen Gallery and Chicago’s Gruen Galleries. Check out the gallery below for a peek into our visit to Stallman’s studios. If you need a daily dose of their work, follow their mind-blowing Instagram.