Essay by John Hopper for Inspirational 8, published in 2016.
The world that we as humans understand well, one that we are intimately involved in, and infinitely connected with, is of course our own. The human world is our first reference point when we come into it, and it is the last reference point when we leave it.
The common connector of this our human world, is the human form. We become aware of the world around us through this our most fundamental of incarnations, and we form links and relationships with others through that human form. It is at once both physical and mental, contained and expansive.
So what is the human form really? In straightforward terms we are a creature that is aware of the material physicality of our landscape, the intimacy of its closeness, and the gulf of its distances. We are also fully able to contemplate the understanding of our yesterdays, as well as of our tomorrows.
We can judge the space that was our past, of time that has gone by, as we are aware of the space that will be our future, of the time that is yet to come. We stand in the moment that is now, and we understand that that moment has both a physical, as well as a conceptual nature.
Artists have been creatively expressing themselves using elements of the human form ever since we as humans have been able to express ourselves through art. To understand the place we hold in our own lives, is to perhaps understand the place others hold in ours, and ultimately the place we all hold on the larger stage.
The artist Stewart Kelly’s work is one that revolves around the observation of the human form. He produces work that gives insight as to who we really are as an organic entity, stripping away the layers of pretence. These are not portraits of obvious personality, there are no faces, no identifiable poses, no costumes, no props.
However, despite the missing accoutrements of traditional portraiture, in many respects these are still sensitive portrayals of individuals. They are singular observations of human identities, observations by an artist of a being suspended in their own particular and momentary place in space and time.
Stewart portrays his observations of what it is to be human, through the form of drawings, expressive creative drawings that take in aspects of the human form, from the quiet stillness, to the fluidity of gesture and movement.
This is an artist that works progressively and spontaneously. He focuses entirely on the figure, in transition from eye, to paper, building up observational moments, laying them one on top of the other, so that his observational lines soon overlap, transcend, transpose, creating a complex abstraction of lines, where each line is a moment in his observation, and the sum of those lines becomes the full connection between the artist, the subject, and the result.
These are not random lines, or even lines that vaguely correspond to a fading, or deconstructing figure, they are the lifeblood of the figure, the sweep of movement of life. Stewart observes, and then projects his connection with the observed, his drawings become the pulse of the human figure, the experience of what it is to be observed, from one moment to the next.
Stitch is an important part of Stewart’s work, it is an integral, but not overpowering element in his compositions. They share his drawings, complimenting and integrating, weaving and undulating, forming the pulse of the human spark, the flow of the human condition.
To understand Stewart’s work is to understand that nothing ever truly lays still, that all is movement and gesture. Fluidity is king in this artists work, recognising and embracing lines of meaning that travel across those times.
To pass through the physical world, to be able to monitor that passage from one moment to the next, is one of the delights of being human. However, to be able to monitor that passage through time as well as space, is a gift that seems uniquely human, to be able to observe and then to express that gift through creative artwork is perhaps an even greater gift, or at least one that is on a par with the original.
Although the human figure has so often been portrayed in the creative arts, it is very often portrayed as a stillness, a figure frozen for the life of the composition of that artist. It is rare to see an artist that portrays the fluidity of movement, and rarer still one that portrays movement in more than one sphere of being.
We are constructed from many diverse elements, and we inhabit our space through many different trajectories. Stewart helps us to see, through his various compositions, the layers of meaning, the layers of process and deliberation, as well as possibility, probability, conjecture and interpretation that goes into each moment of the human condition, and through that, of our daily trajectory of life.
We are also aware that our lives are made up of a sequence of moments, a journey of both physical and mental gestures, of movement through air and ether, of movement through thoughts and memories. Our lives are a rhythm of constantly overlapping moments, moments that build up a steadily increasing richness of experience that eventually becomes our life experience at our death.
This Stewart, as an artist, taps into, he understands that physical observation can only take you so far, that the human experience is so much more than the sum of its material parts, that each life is a multiple experience. Through his consistent overlapping of the projection of multiple imagery of the human form in observation and experience, he is celebrating the journey that we are all on.
That is the special significance that Stewarts’s work plays within our conception of life. He portrays through his work, through the symbolism of his line, the strands of our lives, strands that are both physical and sensory, materially commanding and emotionally poignant. Stewart portrays the human form in all its fullness, as the completeness of experience.