How does Canadian artist Stephen Gibb figure in contemporary art?
But is it contemporary art?
Thank you for joining us in the off-kilter world of Stephen Gibb, where surrealism and Mother Goose are turned on their heads. Take time to explore and ponder his mysterious paintings that delve into the anxieties and joys of contemporary life and muse on the complexities of human behaviour and the fuzzy stratospheres of philosophy. Now let’s hear from the artist himself…
When I discovered Hieronymus Bosch at age 11 I knew I was going to be an artist. Up until that point my idea of an artist was Norman Rockwell, so imagine my surprise.
The artwork that made an early impression on my tiny 1960s mind was Rat Fink and the gruesome “Hot Rod” characters popularized by Ed “Big Daddy” Roth. There was something both revolting and appealing about his creations that I can’t quite resolve in my mind.
I also had this inexplicable sort of fascination/repulsion with commercial icons like the lovable Aunt Jemima, the quirky Quaker Oats guy and the unsettling nursery rhyme illustrations of Humpty Dumpty, man-in-the-moon faces and any highly-rendered cartoon character displaying an extreme emotion.
Everyone is quick to lump me with surrealism and specifically with Salvador Dali but I think I have more to do with MAD magazine than with Sigmund Freud.
(Or, at least a feeble attempt to excuse my behaviour to those present with good taste)
My artwork weaves an eclectic tapestry of cultural and social influences. At one moment it may make a single-punch-line commentary on pop culture, while the next it may construct a complex and playful diorama probing into the outer perimeters of human nature.
It is often categorized as pop surrealism but I’d begrudgingly prefer to tag it as existential editorial cartoon realism or my tongue-in-cheek favourite “Bubblegum Surrealism”, just because they sound more intelligent, pretentious and funny at the same time. The work holds a certain reverence and faithfulness to mimicking reality but leans far enough away to fall in the shadow of the “uncanny valley”, the area where the mind is unsettled by what looks like something real but couldn’t possibly be. It is in this realm, theoretically, that the mind’s gamma waves are super-stimulated and brain activity resembles exploding fireworks. I resolve that this accounts for the broad reactions my work garners from observers, which ranges from contemptuous dismissal to enthusiastic exuberance. We are all wired differently.
The medium is the method, which is a faithful deployment of oil paint using traditional oil painting techniques, such as glazing and the occasional dalliance into chiaroscuro. The richness achieved by layers of thinned oil paint on wood panels always adds an interesting luminous vitality to the final piece.
When constructing a painting, I often let a core image or concept dictate subliminally as to how the composition manifests itself. Colours and characters are woven in a psychological loom and their ambiguity speaks both clearly and muted (with off-stage directions) to those who are willing to confront them head on. Nothing is written in stone, nothing is absolute except the thirst to explore ideas.
-dictated under duress, 2015 (forcibly amended December, 2016)
Contemporary art in Canada, Canadian surrealism, Canadian Pop Surrealism, Bubblegum Surrealism