The seven paintings and forty-five small-scale works on paper in Gary Stephan’s solo exhibition achieve a precise balance with the site, ‘T’ Space, a tall rectangular structure situated within a woodland and designed by Steven Holl. The artworks have been hung to engage the dynamics of the architecture, particularly its asymmetrical windows, which articulate the length and shape of building. Take the mezzanine level of the interior: Two paintings on adjacent walls flank a window situated horizontally and close to the floor, above them is a skylight, a bright rectangle of firmament and foliage that seems a work in its own right. Nearby, works on paper are installed in two parallel rows of increasing and decreasing size on walls opposite each other, effectively accentuating the corridor-like section of the building.
Each painting is tactile and spatially illusive, often including a shape that functions as a picture within a picture, like a window or mirror, which further links the paintings to the built environment. Untitled, 2013, is a series of blue overlapping horizontal and vertical bands that form a screen across the painting through which several black lines appear to slip diagonally. Opacity is refracted by the weave of paint—like water catching reflected light under its surface. A curved shape with a flat right edge sits centrally, acting as a visual portal and an additional physical layer on the painting’s surface. Stephan’s paintings both evoke the things of the world and estrange their relationships, undermining assumptions about the order of things and making for a surreal abstraction of the familiar using painting’s formal means.
— David Rhodes, Artforum Critic’s Picks, 2013
Stephan asks us to take nothing for granted, to re-examine everything we look at, even as he makes paintings that are a pleasure to see and consider. Close looking, the artist suggests in these works, is key to both our experience and understanding, as well as to the recognition that seeing and knowing might only take us so far.
At the same time, there is a visceral component to our experience of Stephan’s work. The solid and semi-transparent bands are simultaneously visual and physical. The artist is not interested in either pictorial illusionism or a purely optical experience. In art, the mind should not be separate from the body, and the body’s experience consists of seeing and touching, the ocular and the tactile. By introducing illogical elements into the painting, Stephan asks us to examine our assumptions, a stance that, in painting, is central to the avant-garde tradition. Perhaps nothing new can be made under the sun, but that does not mean the eternal questions can’t be examined from a fresh perspective. This is what Stephan accomplishes with a visual economy that rivals that of the Abstract Expressionists as well as the Minimalists.
— John Yau, 2013
Conceptual art depends on words. In some cases, as in the amazing works of Lawrence Weiner… his art is words. The paintings of Gary Stephan depend on silence.
— Steven Holl, 2013