For someone with only the merest appreciation of art, occasions to chat with and ask questions of an artist are few and far between. When I asked St. Pius parishioner Stephen Hornsby-Smith recently whether he would like to write an article about his art for St Pius InPrint, he simply directed me to his excellent website (1), of which I was previously unaware.
Having looked at some of Stephen’s work there I recognised at once a strong visual appeal, but felt inadequate to the task of understanding what I was looking at.
I wrote to Stephen to register my appreciation and admit my ignorance. In his reply, he kindly offered to discuss some of his work with me after Sunday Mass. I wondered whether we might look at a few paintings and search for significance and hidden meaning amongst the vivid flowing streams and contortions of colour. If I am honest, I feared being immediately lost in artistic explanations on a plane far above the mundane world I seem to inhabit. Instead, Stephen showed me a YouTube video lasting about 17 minutes, in which his work speaks for itself, and is accompanied by a sound track of lively music, and commentaries by himself and Andre Figueiredo. I was fortunate enough to have Stephen’s own commentary too.
What did I learn? I learned that Stephen’s work reflects stages and locations in his life, and his observation of world events; that he has been influenced by Picasso and the concept of naïve art; that his work expresses concern for, and acute observation of, the natural world; that the seemingly insignificant detail in his paintings can express the challenge or harshness that Stephen wishes to convey; that just when you think you cannot be further surprised by Stephen’s art, he comes up with another piece which starts the process all over again.
I also learned that one does not need to be an art guru to appreciate the humanity expressed in some of Stephen’s work – notably for me in his stirring depictions of the 9/11 and 7/7 tragedies.
At least I thought I was making progress towards some understanding, until I watched a second video, which ends with the caption “How can you contain distortion and beauty, abstraction and the figurative, natural and the industrial? Find a way.” I think I need another chat with Stephen…
[Stephen later explained this was a reference to the unsympathetic attitude of Ted Hughes to his troubled wife, Sylvia Plath. He also links the ‘find a way’ reference to what he calls his “ambivalent” relationship with art.]
I thoroughly recommend a visit to one or more of these:
NF 13 November 2016, updated 27 November 2016