Dimensions: 210 x 210
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Susie Stone has been busy. It is less than two years since we hosted her first showcase of works in the Print Room in the summer of 2020, during that brief interlude between the lockdowns that marked an extraordinary year. Style in Colour announced an exciting new talent to Eames Fine Art and was a bold statement of intent. Susie demanded our attention with a small but exquisite collection of paintings and silkscreens that asked us to reflect on the potential of fashion to empower a sense of identity and to shape the visual version we build of ourselves. It was a moment that eloquently explained the difference between surface and artifice and immediately struck a chord with a willing audience of collectors. Susie has quickly attracted a wide and eager following and so the next step presents an exciting challenge.
The follow up to a successful debut can ask a daunting question of an artist. With Ensemble, her first solo show at Eames Fine Art Gallery, Susie has provided an emphatic answer. Despite a near-disastrous flood in her studio earlier this year that would have derailed a less determined artist, Susie has produced over 30 new paintings and silkscreens that unerringly deliver on her early promise. Of course, we are all making our way through challenging times but the distance that Susie has come in such a short time and the vigour with which she has overcome her setbacks along the way, demands respect.
While Ensemble represents a major step forward, it is worth taking a moment to look back and remind ourselves of the fundamentals that shape Susie’s creative outlook. Ensemble draws together a wide variety of strands that make for a fascinating artistic hinterland. The seminal influence of fashion illustrators such as Antonio Lopez, René Gruau and David Downton provide Susie with a bedrock in terms of presentation and composition. Fashion photographers such as Horst P. Horst, Bill Cunningham, Patrick Demarchelier and Helmut Newton provide touchstones in terms of aesthetic and a certain attitude. These precedents are to be expected for an artist with her previous career in couture, however wider reference points can be found in the work of painters such as Alex Katz, Humphrey Ocean, David Hockney, Julian Opie, the vibrant palette of Lee Krasner and the aesthetic standpoint of the Bloomsbury Group. Personally, I find the resonance with the eighteenth century woodcuts of Kitagawa Utamaro in the tradition of Bijin Ōkubi-e (literally, large-headed pictures of beautiful women) particularly interesting and is a reminder that Susie’s work can take us down sometimes unexpected paths (and is all the better for it). This varied intellectual topography is however unified by the core formal concerns of Susie’s work: the compression of pictorial space, the distillation (not to be confused with simplification) of compositional elements and a sophisticated use of colour. This rigorous visual underpinning gives Ensemble a coherence that Susie asserts with a clarity that is rapidly becoming a hallmark.
Susie has pushed her painting practice since we last encountered her work. There is a more varied palette at play here and it is deployed in the creation of larger, bolder statement pieces. Scale is an interesting creative challenge and Susie meets it well, particularly in works such as Green Suit and Dinner Date. A relish for painted texture, seen in the broken brush marks of works such as Sky Coat and Sunday Stroll are a satisfying development and playfully subvert the crisp, sleek surfaces of paintings that we have been familiar with to date. This pushing at the formal boundaries of her work suggests an artist that is growing in confidence having taken the gamble to return to fine art after a successful career in fashion, and it is a pleasure to display the evidence of this here in the gallery.
Another departure for Susie is her depiction of figures in pairs and groups which is a break from the single-figure solitude of her previous work. This not only allows Susie to explore more complex compositions but is also a welcome reminder that, as the world turns, we are now able to meet up again, reconnect in each other’s company and dress up to show off. Fashion is a common language that we can enjoy with our ‘tribe’ and if works like Connections and Tea Dress Trio are interpreted by visitors to this exhibition as gentle celebrations of the fact that we might be finally, albeit cautiously, emerging from the torments of the last two years, Susie Stone, an artist who has conducted her fledgling career exclusively in lockdown, would be only too delighted. A sentiment that we can all agree with, surely?
Vincent Eames, March 2022