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Neil Stokoe: Staircases and Figures

67 Jermyn Street

2nd – 24th February 2017

Their great variety of shapes and forms almost make them the architectural equivalent of trees. Neil Stokoe, 2016

Megan Piper is pleased to present Staircases and Figures – an exhibition of work by British artist Neil Stokoe.

Stokoe was born in County Durham in 1935. Following National Service with the RAF he gained a place at the Royal College of Art in 1959. There, along with his contemporaries R.B. Kitaj, David Hockney, Pauline Boty, Frank Bowling, Derek Boshier, Peter Phillips, Patrick Caulfield and Allen Jones, these students would herald a golden age for the College. The creative force and vitality of these artists caused a sea change in British Art and its international reputation.

Staircases and Figures is an exhibition of large-scale paintings dating from the early 80s to the present day. The exhibition, in the downstairs of Harris Lindsay, highlights Stokoe’s commitment to his artistic practice and stylistic integrity. Staircases and Figures follows Stokoe’s 2015 exhibition at The Redfern Gallery, From the 60s On, and offers a chance to see a group of paintings that span the last 35 years, none of which have been seen by the public before.

Composing scenes from memory, photographs and the everyday imagery he encounters, Stokoe composes scenes that are composite images of reality. He relinquishes artistic control over the interpretation of the works, not wishing to explain them, and prefers the paintings to maintain a veil of mystery and ambiguity. The paintings do however allude to a possible narrative and the viewer is invited to explore and tentatively unpick each scene.

The staircase provides a strong compositional framework for the paintings and as an architectural device offers a prescient metaphor for life. The motif has recurred in Stokoe’s paintings since the 60s and he remembers becoming aware of the resonance of the staircase in 1961, when he saw it in Degas’ The Rehearsal (c.1874). In the painting, two dainty ballerina feet can be seen on the staircase as a dancer either descends the staircase or looks voyeuristically at the dancers rehearsing below. Graham Sutherland’s Interior (1965) depicts a vast room inside a warehouse that includes a tall, apparently never-ending, staircase that winds up the canvas – this painting further confirmed Stokoe’s interest in the architectural structure and its potency.

In the early 60s Stokoe met Francis Bacon and this exhibition includes Stokoe’s most recent painting, Looking Back (2016), a tribute to his friendship with the artist and Stokoe’s only overtly autobiographical work, which depicts the pair in the style of one of his iconic double portraits.