John Stark
Alcove Paintings

02 March 2018 - 07 April 2018

John Stark

Stark’s thirteen new alcove paintings invite us into an illusory medieval world of bee-craft, populated by artisans, monks, witches and fools. Laden with symbolic and mythological allusions these works draw heavily on the dreamlike and archetypal, where Stark deploys universal motifs in combinations that are unique only to him. Subtle anachronisms including beach balls, wrist watches and tattoos destabilise our notions of time, suggesting a decoupling from standard notions of past, present and future.

The formal trope of the alcove is employed throughout this series with great variety. Emblazoned with symbols or inscriptions, their negative spaces suggest excavated tombstones whilst serving as portals or internal ledges. Heraldic symbols, icons, relics, figures or landscape might be depicted within this pictorial space, placing the viewer between interior and exterior, and also emphasising a heightened voyeuristic element within the work. The painting Materno depicts a nursing mother in stark solidity yet the cracks in the alcove intonate fragility and transience. In Chessboard Landscape bees crawl into a dark hole as if entering the painting itself, or alternatively they are being drawn to an alchemical black sun. In Fool the subject fixates on a bee in flight while missing the gem stones under his nose.

We are presented with an ultimately austere world built on the foundations of classical and romantic traditions that embraces emotional engagement whilst rejecting sentimentality. Artist and audience traverse the history of painting via a complex web of reference points, from 15th century Dutch Mannerism to ancient Inca textile design; from Rosemary’s Baby to Picabia’s nudes. Notions of birth, nurture and responsibility coalesce with what is ultimately a meditation on the passing of time and the creeping inevitability of death.