Continuing her series, Emily Tobin meets the artist whose figurative paintings are seductive and unsettling
Stephen Chambers’ distinctive paintings and prints are immediately recognisable. Hovering between the figurative and the abstract, they consist of a curious cast of characters in otherworldly settings, often placed against flat planes of vivid colour. It is difficult not to be seduced by their sense of playfulness and seeming simplicity.
Stephen divides his time between east London and Berlin. He attributes his stints in Germany to his ‘pursuit of a life less ordinary’. The same can be said of his relationship with printmaking. ‘I know I have a propensity to turn into a control freak, which is one of the reasons why I like printing, as I’m not totally in control,’ he explains. Similarly, with his paintings, it is the element of craft that appeals. ‘I am not interested in paintings that are about virtuosity or skill.
I try to encourage the unknown, which is why I flip between scales – I am interested in the handmade. Whether it’s relocating my studio or working with processes I don’t know – I want to not bore myself.’
The works that hang on the walls of his London studio are a testament to his joyful yet economic handling of colour: there are swathes of egg-yolk yellow; a lick of scarlet paint denotes a fashion catwalk; a man is mauled by a dog under a pea-green sky, while another tosses his shoe across a peach backdrop. These paintings and prints have the flat, hierarchical feel of Renaissance frescoes or Indian Mughal paintings.
Stephen used to work in the building next door. ‘It was a grotty little studio, falling to pieces with fungus on the walls, but it was fantastically cheap, which allowed me to be an artist through all those rocky years, of which there were many,’ he says. ‘It was very dark and the paintings I made there were strong and saturated in colour. A friend once joked that they had to be bright so I could see them.’
There is something abbreviated about Stephen’s work – a canny lack of information that poses more questions than it answers. ‘Perhaps more than being a storyteller, I’m trying to lay out a list of speculations and possibilities,’ he says. Subtle yet beguiling and quietly subversive, Stephen’s art invites prolonged consideration.