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FOCAL POINT: A critic's view

The paintings of Peter Stephens combine abstraction with the naturalism of the photograph. The Buffalo artist begins each painting with a hand-painted copy of one of the photographs of Paris -- scenes of streets, facades and interiors -- by the French photographer Atget. These images are then "veiled" in an overlay of vertical lines, evidently executed with a comblike instrument. The effect is like looking through a curtain onto a vaguely defined scene.

In "Atget Rococo II," as happens in the other works in the show, the "curtain" covers the entire surface of the painting, appearing in greater density on the right-hand side, where its milky white presence partially obscures our vision of this elegant stairway. The pinstripes act like the chaperone to the painting. They keep things from going overboard, ensuring that the painting stays right in the middle between naturalism and abstraction.

The stairway perspective, for example, is prevented from pushing too strongly forward by the white striations of the curtain. But the stripes also assert themselves cautiously. They march across the surface of the painting in tiny increments, never disturbing the fragile unity of the painting.

-- Richard Huntington

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