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Eddy Stevens | artist




 








Biography

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preface

Eddy Stevens was born in Brasschaat (Antwerp)
on May 16, 1965.

He attented the Art Academy in St.-Niklaas and was a
student of Guy Wauters and Sonya Rosalia Bauters.

He staged his first exhibition when he was 16
.
His work is shown in Belgium, The Netherlands, France, Great Britain and the USA.


In the grip of supernatural inspiration

When Cuchulain, half man, half son of the sun god, was caught by a supernatural inspiration, a strange fluttering light appeared around his head. Full of awe the old Irish chronicles called it the ‘thorn-bush light’ of the hero. In Cuchulain’s case it announced the battle-frenzy that rendered him absolutely invincible on the battlefield and made him fight the darkness of evil with all his powers. In a broader sense, however, this light may be explained as the intrusion of the divine into the human netherworld. The image we just
evoked illustrates to what degree this ‘light from above’, this ‘more than personal’ inspiration that also typifies the canvases of Eddy Stevens, is the crucial factor determining everything. It makes the difference between a fight with an uncertain outcome and victory but also between a good painting and a true work of art. This radiance illuminates the fantasy world around Eddy Stevens and transforms it to what the artist himself calls a ‘spiritual life-world’. Stevens says about himself “what cannot be in reality is possible in my thoughts and I incorporate it into my paintings”.

This way it seems as if Eddy is saying that his canvases are a kind of enclave, which is correct. Time and again anyone who understands the art of seeing discovers in them a safe haven for something that has got out of sight in the real world; the primordial model of honest and deep relations between one human being and another. In these paintings the thorn-bush light of the hero breaks through with force and shows us its pure form. Considered in this way these works retain a memory of a pure, mythological time of origin that in respect of content remains the touchstone of everything that came later and subsequently covered the original image and hid it from sight. Our modern times, complex and chaotic as they often are, may gradually be extinguishing the clear light from above, but the darkness is never all-encompassing. Artists like Eddy Stevens remain sensitive to the glow and show us the way to its source. For that reason we interpret these fantastic canvases as views of ‘the most important human possibilities’, possibilities to which we are called by these intriguing images and that are still within our reach. With the brush of the virtuoso and with the spear he is clasping in his hand in his self-portrait [page 77] Stevens points out their commanding reality as well as the need to realise them. The contents of mythological tales are never bound to time or to a specific period. Time stands still in them, negating eternity. Maybe it is there that we find the light of timeless humanity that enables us to understand both stories that are thousands of years old and these modern paintings.

Stevens moved from Antwerp to France to be able to live and work in such a timeless atmosphere. Pure and true humanity is to be found far away from the noise of modern society in which the speed of life makes everybody a prisoner of time. The twenty-four hours of day are rigidly divided into parts and segments reserved for compulsory recreation or activities that in the last instance are removed from our will and estrange us from ourselves. An artist whose work has a contrary intention cannot but free himself from this and Stevens has done so. He says he has never been so close to nature as during the past twelve months he has spent as a ‘hermit’ with his wife and model Sophie. Nature, however, is often a silent mirror in which we can see ourselves clearly.

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The point of departure

The first work of art he ever made was a moonscape when he was twelve. Eddy, dreamy and introvert then as ever, painted a place that was ‘not here’ but more real to him than anything he could see with his eyes. No craving for far-away exotic places, but the visualisation of the silent place where his world showed its vulnerable inside, where the ripples in the black water of the emotional life disappear and the image becomes clear. Thus he started his personal and artistic quest inside what you might call a protected dream. [painting “A Protected Dream”, page 82] Dreams reveal what to us humans is of the greatest importance and most real. A true artist must have the unique talent to show that to others, but of course these others in turn have to allow him to develop his gift.

At school Eddy only got straight A’s for the creative subjects, as the rest was of no interest to him. He liked to potter about in the garage that had been refashioned into a workshop. His brother Walter kept reptiles over there as a hobby. A visit by the painter Guy Wauters changed all that. The worktable had to go and an easel took its place. It was as plain as a pikestaff that school was not really going to work out. Eddy had to go and look for a job. Thus the two brothers and their father went to Antwerp every day. Walter attended university and Eddy was employed in his father’s diamond-cutting factory. Down there he excelled in drawing the important saw-lines on the rough diamonds with astonishing precision. This tells us something about his extraordinary powers of observation and his sharp gaze, qualities that clearly return in his paintings. He regularly went to the Art Academy in Sint Niklaas and came into contact with the painter Sonya Rosalia Bauters. She took him under her wing, was not easily satisfied with what he did and became the source of Eddy’s great technical and artistic skills. Alone in his studio he felt like a fish in water, but inevitably he had to go to the diamond-cutting shop every day with a growing dislike.

Whatever the situation - at least he made good money, which enabled him to travel to the Far East and America. His experiences strengthened him as a human being and as a person. He gained a firmer grip on life. Thus, he stayed in Bombay for six months and acquired a deep insight into the underlying emotionality and sensitivity of Indian art and culture. When he set foot again on his native soil he cut to the chase and decided that henceforward he would do nothing but paint. At first it was not possible to make a living out of art, so he took commissions for murals, frescoes and stage sets. In fact he had a small painting-factory like many early Flemish painters before him, and just like them he saw to it that there was always some time for free work. That is what it had all been about from the beginning!

 

Emotionally coloured

Many people deal with emotionally gruelling periods in their lives by talking to others, but Stevens’ pre-eminent language is painting. His gentle character makes him a sounding board of situations, so that the best way for him to tackle surrender, passion, estrangement, loss and sorrow is to grab a brush and to magically transform them into images. No doubt, intimate relations form the most intense experiences and turning-points in our lives. For that reason we can see a reflection of the later stages of Eddy’s love life in his work. It also explains why woman plays such a pivotal role in his work. Eddy grew as a human being and as he developed himself as an artist, not only did his artisan’s skills increase but so did his intuition and sensitivity: the sources of his artistic imagination were fine-tuned. He showed himself to be ever more capable of visualising in great depth and nuances the strong emotions that by their sheer power threaten to overwhelm us. Other people may lose themselves in the intensity and the rush of the ephemeral moment and briefly stop being in control. In Eddy’s case, however, it is the silence of timelessness he has sought and found that makes him see and hear with much greater clarity.
 

The colour of silence

To Stevens silence is of the essence. The spectator standing in front of his canvases can even see that. The backgrounds that are mostly dark do not express darkness but visualise the absence of noise and disturbance. For that reason Eddy especially likes the night and the evening light. [painting “Imitating the Night”, page 50] Here, everything is concentrated attention for the human being facing the painter and the spectator. This painterly silence does not only characterise Stevens as an artist; it also determines the limits to his capability of relating to people. Ever since his childhood the ‘one-on-one’ relationship has been where his greatest power lies as well as his source of inspiration.

We understand now why Eddy was able only in direct personal contact with artists like Guy Wauters and Sonya Rosalia Bauters to learn much from them. They were loners themselves and took him along because they sensed that his world, too, was to be found outside the group. Eddy did not fit in with collectives like the academy. We should not be surprised then that it was that most intense and emotional relationship an individual man and an individual woman have when they are in love, which became the central axis of his work. Eddy paints the focal point of his life and lives his paintings. Occurrences and especially decisive moments in his life are transferred to a painting. In the double sense of the word they are worked into them and forever leave their traces in them. However, this is done in such a fashion that they are also transformed from private to human in a general sense and so they can have meaning for us.

 

The ‘other’ par excellence

When we look sharp we realise that in the end this artistic work has only one true subject, notably the relations between human beings. In his own world the painter Eddy Stevens encounters the other and he does so both as an artist and as a human being. We already stated that in his life and art ‘the other’ is embodied pre-eminently by woman, but maybe that is not just a peculiarity of Eddy’s character and personal constitution. Woman is the other par excellence. She is the one who is at the same time the most closely and most deeply known, and on the other hand, in being a woman she is also totally different, strange and an unsolved riddle. She is identical yet remains different, a paradox that can be explored endlessly. From that polar tension between two persons emerges a land that in this case is created by a single man, far away from all daily routines and boredom but at the same time remarkably close to the heart of your and my emotional life. Everything here is controlled by a sparse and timeless symbolism that deals with the question what it means to be human. Eddy applies this symbolism with a truly masterful hand to express in fascinating canvases the events in his own life and the way he reacts to them. In this way things that usually stay under the skin develop into a series of beautiful stills of our inner life. [painting “Fragments of Images”, page 89] With each new painting Eddy enlarges his world and adds another chapter to the continuing story he tells with his oeuvre.
 

A crossroads of meaning

To Stevens the female form is not only the most beautiful thing that exists, but it is also of a much deeper symbolic significance than that of the male. The latter fact also means that the extra riches in symbolism, that crossroads of associations, furnishes him with a greater number of ‘words’ to tell the story of which the models in his paintings are the dramatis personae. In his early years Eddy spent much time playing on stage and the parallels with his work are certainly no coincidence. The theatre and the play are no false semblance but an acting of reality and it is this reality that forcefully presents itself in the stage-management of his paintings.

Lately he has succeeded in developing his artisan’s skill at rendering certain emotions in a plastic and figurative fashion, but the equilibrium between these two sides of his artistic existence - the silent inspiration and the refined technique - always remains precarious. It must be regained time and again by means of supreme concentration.
Anyone who looks at Stevens’ paintings must come to the conclusion that he reaches an all-time high of his art in the canvases for which his wife has posed. Eddy shows himself capable of expressing an astonishing variety of emotional nuances and meanings in his representation of her body. The poses in which he puts Sophie almost always show a kind of tension that keeps her within herself. [painting “Surrounded”, page 14 + painting “The Search”, page 19] Not only is her gaze directed inwardly, but it also seems as if she is hardly aware of where she is, as if she is listening to something on the edge of the human ability of hearing. Under such circumstances the surroundings can no longer be a context in the usual sense of a landscape that frames us or a kind of demarcation of the spot. The surroundings become the other place out of Eddy’s youth, the spot that was ‘not here’, that is to say, outside the boundaries of the everyday world. Better still, the surroundings show themselves to be silence and frame at once. On top of that they are the white page on which all thoughts and ponderings of the model can be made visual in her own body. Only in this way can the artist and the spectator read her story as well as the story that Eddy puts on the stage.

 

New chapters, old stories

The philosopher Wittgenstein once remarked: “There are things that cannot be said in words and that have to show themselves of their own initiative; such is the mythical”.
This is true of Stevens’ canvases as well. Earlier we spoke of the human in general and it is that very dimension in which the world of Eddy Stevens lies immersed. Devoid of all time-bound aspects or references, there only remains what is of all times. Paradoxically enough only such mythical representations can be interpreted time and again and bring us ever deeper insights. They connect man to his world and in this way inside with outside. In a painting like “Comfort brings relief” [page 71] we see Eddy and Sophie stepping out of themselves, as it were, transcending themselves exactly on the high point of introversion. Their gaze is averted and the iconography of the image seems to suggest the end of a stay in paradise, because Eddy enters the darkness. Or would it be silence? Here in the beginning in their Garden of Eden there was only the two of them, but in Eddy’s work of art they are there also for the spectator. Eddy and Sophie: the one shows herself to be an open book as a model, and so does the other, though in his case it is as the artist who is able to read that book and knows how to use her form and the play of light on her body to reveal something that is not only in her or in him, but in every human being.
 

New light and old friends

When Eddy and Sophie met he mainly painted grisailles, works in shades of grey; back to the essence of light. Grisailles are a venerable ancient technique that was also practised by Stevens’ fellow countryman, the famous Jan van Eyck. Sophie speaks of a ‘dark monochrome grey period’ that passed into a new period full of light and colour. However, this should not be understood to mean that Stevens went on working in strong reds, blues and yellows like an impressionist. No, actually he succeeded in exploring the enormous richness of light not in its width but rather in its depth according to the adage ‘it is in self-limitation that a master first shows himself’. Brown and moss green, sepia and white, black and a metallic green, rust and earth, but most of all the almost infinite wealth of subtle shades of colour evoked by light falling on the human skin.

If one bears all this in mind, one will also understand why Stevens has great affinity with artists like Velasquez and Rembrandt, Lucian Freud, Balthus and last but not least the American Andrew Wyeth, who became famous through his beautiful ‘Helga’ series; these are without exception painters who bring about a direct connection between corporality and light. In this context we refer to a corporality that does not primarily manifest itself as form and shape, but as materiality, as bodily warmth, as tangibility, as intimacy, and on the other hand to the expressiveness of the painted light. Although Eddy has great admiration for Italian painters like Tiepolo and Veronese with their warm light, he is, in spite of his perfect anatomical rendering of the human body, not a Renaissance artist. It would be more correct to say that in contrast to a Michelangelo he has retained the medieval emotional directness and mixes it in a unique way with the renewed and joyful observation of things earthly and of the beauty of the outside world.

Also for this reason Eddy’s increase in outward artistic finesse coincides with a deeper probing into himself, an attempt to get closer to himself. Apart from that, however, the need to lose himself in the world of his paintings and to live there must not be underestimated as a motivating force. Since Eddy is travelling a twofold road, the titles of his works point in the direction of an increasing turning inward that paradoxically shows itself to be also the way out towards the emotions that people share and that they can read from each others’ faces and postures. Eddy is searching for the ultimate touches of paint and wants to move people to make them think about themselves and their existence.

And what about the light? With Eddy Stevens the ideal light really is the key to everything. Light infuses colours with life and makes a gift to us of the wonders of the visible world.
At the same time, however, it is a metaphor of insight, peace, understanding, and redemption. In all religions and philosophical systems since Classical Antiquity this has remained so. The first words spoken by God at the beginning of Biblical creation were “Let there be light”, and Christ, his son, whom he sent into the world, was in earlier days referred to as ‘Lux Mundi’, the light of the world.
A culture that has been built on the foundations of Christianity and Platonic philosophy whose highest point was the ‘Sun of ideas’ is bound to identify its deepest contents with the ‘light from above’ that does not only shine in nature but also shines into the soul. The art of a single painter seeking solitude and isolation, too, inevitably contains that cultural heritage we all share. Nature has four seasons and undoubtedly autumn is the most meditative of these. The light of autumn inspires us to think, to ponder on what has preceded us. Perhaps culture is autumn in us. [painting “Autumn within Us”, page 46]

 

A new kind of time

It is quite remarkable that recent canvases, created in the peace and quiet of the countryside, show us a shift in the nature of the representations. Instead of one single model, now there are sometimes two. Besides Sophie, occasionally depicted together with Eddy, we now see ‘the other’ as a ‘third person’. With this the magic circle of the two lovers who need nothing besides each other is broken. In the guise of the third person society suddenly presents itself as a grid of mutual relations between several people. We consider this to be a structural enrichment of Stevens’ work, because society is no external addition to the ‘one-on-one’ relation but an essential and vital part of our humanity. At the very least it is impossible to be an individual if we do not know the group from which we want to distinguish ourselves, but of which, through our very nature, we inevitably remain a part. The others are always already inside us and only those that recognise this can be themselves and yet prepared to meet other people. In these recent canvases we also see the postures of the women becoming looser and more open. [painting “Building Castles in the Air”, page 54] Sometimes even at the very edge of the image there appears a castle ruin, or some crumbling masonry, tokens of a culture that is a collective building and a work of art owned and created by many.

The love between two people drives away the phantom of time oozing away, but the third person brings that very same time back in a positive fashion. A being together arises, which so to speak is precipitated in experiences and unique moments that have been shared by more than one person; this is a bigger world, namely that of history. Eddy’s world too, we discover, has its own history with new unexpected changes. Here the painter is the creator, but at the same time the observer who follows the course of events and writes them down. We establish that it is precisely the social isolation that enhances the sensitivity of this painter to the subtlety and complexity of the things that bind us, and to what is of everlasting significance. Exactly that is what makes Stevens’ paintings true masterpieces.

 

The man holding the spear

‘Light from above’ is falling down, but the spear that Eddy clasps with his hand is pointing upwards. It has actually become a metaphor of the central interest of this artistic virtuoso.
Stevens poses as a warrior in the deep silence of the shadows that surround his head.
He thus shows us a picture of his existence as a watchman, the man who is on the lookout and scans the heavens and the horizon. All his senses are primed because it is his task, on behalf of others, to be the first to see and hear the coming of the unexpected.
He is on his guard, vigilant and taciturn because the smallest sound can be of the greatest significance. He defends what is of value and, just like the demigod Cuchulain at the beginning of our tale, he does so with all his powers and in the grip of a supernatural inspiration. He is an example of a man who as an individual and as a fellow human being takes his responsibilities very seriously.
Stevens’ battlefield is art as a very eminent expression of our shared culture. Being a very talented painter he is also able to show to others how, in the timeless dimension mentioned above, they must relate to themselves and to others. A recent painting bearing the title “The Memorial Stone” [page 81] evokes that very image. Several people in silent solidarity bend over a stone full of markings, representing culture. They are listening and thinking but at the same time the stone is a holy stone suffused with the ‘light from above’. Individuals that stay themselves but share a tie that goes back way beyond everyday life, a tie that in remembering returns to a timeless mythological past and expresses itself in the fluttering light that surrounds the stone in the fashion of a wreath as once the head of the Irish hero holding the magic spear.




Frans Jeursen