Stephen Hutchings

15 October 1985 - 9 November 1985
Opening Reception 15 October 1985 8pm

East Gallery:


This solo exhibition features recent works by Stephen Hutchings, an artist currently residing in Banff, Alberta. The work in this exhibition, “Apprehensions”, presents four situations in which large, monumental figures directly confront the viewer. Executed in oil on canvas with minimal use of colour and a dark tonality, the full faced figures stand out in sharp contrast to the plain white background, heightening the sense of confrontation.

“In their poses, manner, scale and tonality, the figures provoke an uneasiness in the viewer by projecting an air of ominous intent into the space of the gallery. In this way, they comment on the appearance of our world when we react to it, not with our reason and our optimism, but with our emotions, our fears and our apprehensions.” – Stephen Hutchings

Steve Hutchings work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Articule in Montreal (1985), and the Southern Alberta Art Gallery in Lethbridge (1984). Since 1977, he has participated in numerous group exhibitions in Toronto (1977, 1978, 1979,1981) Banff (1984) and Calgary (1984).

Stephen Hutchings
Mercer Union
October 15 to November 9

Richard A. Sinclair
Vanguard, February 1986

“Apprehensions” is a suitably suggestive and ambitious title for this exhibit of four ‘situations’ in which large, monumental figures confront the viewer. The images first appear to be straight forward – but they are sufficiently subtle to involve the viewer in thoughts about the connection between ”apprehension-” as understanding and “apprehension” as dread.

Three Masked Men is large (265 x 397 cm) and like the other three works a black and somber coloured oil drawing / painting on white gessoed canvas tacked directly on the wall. On first appearance these considerably larger than life-size figures do project an aura of unfocused menace although they are still, physically doing nothing to break the immobility of the tableau. One’s attention is drawn to the masks. Although they might be gags the whiteness suggests the possibility of surgical masks to protect against contamination, either them from ours or us from theirs, in this astringent operating theatre of appearances. Then the slight colouration that bleeds into the shins and overalls (uniform of the worker?) begins to draw one’s attention to an individual articulation of the characters, perhaps more casual, less threatening, than the first reading. Hands in pockets or perhaps – there is not quite enough information to be sure – behind the back. But might not the hands be lied, the masks a shocking slippage of the prisoner’s blindfold in front of our firing squad? No. The united and stern gaze from the deep black eye sockets deny us that power over this image.

In the two works which depict single figures Hutchings continues to explore a world of implicit threats and ambiguous meanings. Man with Rifle, the least intriguing, represents a workman with sleeves rolled up, standing casually with a rifle slung over his shoulder looking directly at the viewer. The concentration of colour in the flesh and gun focus our interest there yet there seems to be no particular menace implied, just attention, which, from a man with a gun may indeed be cause for alarm. In Crouching Man a powerfully built, middle-aged workman in knitted cap kneels on one leg holding a length of presumably lead pipe in his capable hands and looks at the viewer. This simple ovoid composition has elements common to all the “situations”. These are men that carry with them the stamp of how they earn their living. They seem to belong to an instance of political or social dialogue. In this case the man is individual enough that we might have met him in the past but we can’t be sure; perhaps in a novel by Zola, Steinbeck or Upton Sinclair. They all appear to be descended from Northern European stock, not surprising if the concern is a particular kind of political, social or economic power. Again Crouching Man is characteristic in that it can be read ambivalently as a coiled political or social threat, perceived as a person responding to the viewers presence. or as a plumber innocuously, but not insignificantly, going about his business.

If Hutchings intends that the figures provoke an uneasiness in the viewer by projecting an air of ominous intent into the viewing space – a comment on the appearance of the world when we project “apprehension” as dread rather than understanding on its reception – he succeeds. The effectiveness of “Apprehensions” can be partly attributed to the skilful use of size and scale, possibly a legacy from Hutchings’s experience in handling space as a sculptor. He has exhibited large scale sculptures continuously since 1977 which for the last four years have involved a human image. The process was to select an image of a person from a newspaper, project it onto a surface and, sometimes with modification, trace the outline. This then became the pattern for a steel rod silhouette drawing that was arranged, often with other elements. in a tableau in space. As a refinement of this method, the outlines of figures were cut up and distributed about the space of the gallery. More recently, large charcoal drawings on paper of figures, basically filled-in versions of the silhouettes, have been juxtaposed with such paraphernalia as rifles, church pews, or bleachers.

The notion of ‘projection’, the manipulation of space, the particularization of silhouette, the individuation of image have been developed to infuse “Apprehensions” with a greater resonance than previously manifest. Conversation with Giants represents the heads and shoulders of two dark suited men apparently talking to each other but both casting wary glances to the viewer. The threat implied in the looming presence of these largest of men in the exhibition (8.5 feet from top of head to second vest button) is once again undercut by the uneasy attention they are paying to the spectator. In this, the most political of the works, we may be the subject of (or to) or irrelevant to, these giant deliberations but are nevertheless inescapably implicated in the situation.