Monday, November 12, 2012


Luxury for me comes in the form of space and time, and the new exhibitions called Artists' Laboratory at the Royal Academy have supplied both most generously in the case of the three I have so far attended.  On Sunday morning we had Stephen Chambers' exhibition completely to ourselves.  We were able to stay in there fully to enjoy the works - so long, indeed that the attendant came in at one point to check on us.  The photo below shows the opening party - such a contrast with the wondrous situation we encountered.
The exhibition consists of three collections of prints: The Big Country, illustrated above, is the central attraction.  An arrangement of 78 screenprints is an enthralling attraction which for me is very like watching an episodic story told with shadow puppets.
The unifying 'web' of the background pattern is a device which Stephen Chambers uses in many of his prints.  I find it one of the many attractive elements in his work.  Although each individual print - each framed in a perspex box - is the same size, the scale of the figures varies with soloists standing large, some five 'storeys' high, while complex incidents take part in one box - but each is very much part of the whole: the big story.  One of my favourite elements in the whole work apart from the figures is the tree, seen in quite a range of variations.  The Big Country is black and white, and full of colour.
The other group in the first room - of etchings - on the wall opposite The Big Country, is Trouble Meets Trouble.  These confirm Stephen Chambers' great humour as well as his storytelling impulse.  My absolute favourite is Marie Antoinette, but I love all of them. I have been intrigued by Stephen Chambers' use of chine colle, which in these cases provide the background pattern, seen in the later Big Country as a unifying overall element.
The third part of the exhibition is in the smaller room, and consists of lithographs on the wall from the series Portrait of a Pre-Caffeinated Mind.  (These can be seen on Stephen Chambers' website under lithographs.)  In display cases are examples of pages from the artist's books Long Pig and A Year of Ranting Hopelessly.
There is a catalogue available, which contains an interview with Stephen Chambers as well as an academic essay.  This should be available from the Royal Academy online shop, although it is not listed yet.  There are videos on The Big Country here, and a series here.

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