The Exhibition Formerly Known as Passengers: 2.3 Dirk Stewen

November 04, 2008 to November 29, 2008

Using collage, watercolor, and photographs, the German artist Dirk Stewen composes his visual arrangements in a way similar to poetry. He sequences images and text in response to the textures of his materials. Untitled (2007) consists of thread and confetti on black paper and resembles a celestial map; its formal qualities of line, shape, and drape epitomize the artist's signature style. The visual rhythm of Stewen's work is as important as its qualities of concealment and blankness. Jumping Horse (2007), for instance, includes a page from a book describing an oil painting but does not reveal the name of the artist or an image of the artwork. The omission of this information creates a conceptual pause, adding a new and mysterious implication to a phrase such as "progression from the melancholy to the sublime".

by Jens Hoffmann

When approaching the work of German artist Dirk Stewen for the first time a wide variety of possible artistic classifications come to mind. With his delicate and poetic pieces Stewen has carefully placed himself in-between clearly defined artistic practices. He could be called a photographer since most of his works contain images taken by him. The artist could be considered a sculptor since his pieces frequently contain objects that he finds and alters. He could be called an installation artist since most of his works are installed with a gentle consideration of their location, creating a very close and intimate relationship to the exhibition space. Stewen's practice could also be called drawing when looking at the fact that he works mostly with ink on paper. Yet, Stewen is not interested in fitting into any of these categories but rather tries to embrace the artistic possibilities of all these media to create something new.

Another way to understand Stewen's work is through an exploration of his use of materials. Photographic paper plays a prominent role in many of the artist's works, yet, it is photographic paper that has never been developed or exposed to film. The artist uses this material rather as a starting point for many of his works, covering the paper with black ink to create forms that are not unlike those seen during the chemical process required to develop a photograph. The ink reacts with the paper to create various fluid forms and organic shapes that the artist is not able to control or direct. Instead of a final representative image the result is a black, almost monochrome drawing that is then further manipulated by the artist who embroiders it with large pieces of multicolored confetti and various lines of colorful cotton thread, that often hang from the picture like strings of fine long hair.

Stewen is interested in the relationships that are generated by combining his ink drawings with other elements, such as pages from books and found photographs. These careful visual arrangements take the form of large collages, which incorporate objects that hold a specific meaning to the artist. Stewen assembles all of these elements with great sensitivity to create highly personal works of art that suggest a particular mood.

In a detailed study of how form functions, the artist employs formal strategies to convey strong sentiments through his deceptively simple compositions. Blank spaces are used to create intentional pauses that give his arrangements a visual rhythm, in a similar way to how punctuation is used to create a pause in poetry. Stewen also provocatively conceals certain integral elements, such as including a page from a book containing the futile description of an unseen artwork. This practice produces a type of abstraction that is less about communicating a clear concept, and more about the exploration of meaning and emotion through an intuitive process rendered into works of art by means of a careful, studied use of materials and form.