David C. Stewart enjoys painting meaningful still lifes
February 13, 2015
Painter David C. Stewart’s still lifes are different.
The artist, based in Asheville, North Carolina, adds elements that give his compositions deeper meanings.
"This is something that has always been in my work," Stewart said during a telephone interview with The Park Record from North Carolina. "I’m not just about painting a pretty still life. I want to tell a story."
Two of Stewart’s works are on display at Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art, 1678 W. Redstone Center Dr., Suite 110-115.
One of the works depicts a vase of peonies that stands in front of an Italian landscape.
"When I did that painting, I knew an art-savvy person would get what it’s about," Stewart said. "There are a lot of layers and levels to understand what is happening in that painting."
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First off, the background contains a quote from a fresco in the government building in Sienna.
"It has to do with the relationships between the city heads and the commoners, working class," Stewart explained. "In the upper left, there is an arch angel who is making a proclamation in Old Testament dialect about how there should be honest integrity and trust element between the haves and have-nots."
The main focus of the work is the peonies in the foreground.
"You will see one red, ruby-colored flower in the middle and there are other objects diagonally to the left and to the right," Stewart said. "The one of the left is a Brahma ceremonial vessel from Tibet, which is used in very high sacred rituals."
The vessel is directly situated across from a Chinese opium pipe on the right.
"Notice the spouts are both pointing directly to the red peony, which represents the heart charka," Stewart explained. "So in this work, there is a triangle of sacred geometry."
This is just an example of what people can find in Stewart’s paintings.
"There are enough good artists that paint beautiful still lifes, but I like to put more juice into what I do," he said. "There are statements in these works. Sometimes they are political statements. Sometimes they may be a spiritual statement."
The artist uses oils, because he likes to manipulate his medium.
"Oils are very forgiving in a lot of ways," Stewart said. "Once you kind of get the feel of how to maneuver the paint and get used to the amount of oil content, it makes a big difference.
"In some instances, you will use very thin layers and other times you will apply the layers for a big build-up," he said. "A lot of people may be intimidated by oils, but I have found them more allowing that watercolors, and it all depends on what the painting asks for."
The second Stewart work at the Hoffman gallery features a vase of sunflowers, and the background pattern is from an African Kuba Cloth.
"These cloths are from particular tribes in Africa and the one I used is from Congo, I believe," Stewart said. "These cloths were actually worn or used for ceremonies."
The patterns on the cloth have specific meanings, according to Stewart.
"These are all within the context of family and the overall context of the tribes they belong to," he said. "I have a number of these cloths in my collection and I picked that particular one because it, to me, represented a Matisse-like frivolity or playful element to the still life."
Stewart selected sunflowers to be the focal point because he wanted to maintain a simplistic color scheme with golds, browns and blacks.
"I added some other color with oranges," he said.
The flowers are set in a Han Dynasty pot.
"The pot has a specific shape," Stewart said. "It’s a cocoon pot.
The final touch on any Stewart painting is the frame.
"I went traditional on that," he said. "The frame is from Florence, Italy, and dates back to the 1700s, but it’s also simple.
"Framing is very important to my works, because it plays a very integral part in the painting and presentation of the painting," he said. "You can elaborate on a particular theme with a frame."
Finding different items to include in the paintings is part of the craft, Stewart said.
"I’ve traveled and explored all over the world and studied many ancient cultures, including the Mayan culture in Guatemala, to the Tibetan, Egyptian, Balinese and Thai cultures," he said. "Those two particular paintings [in Park City] show how I pull from those cultures, which, through personal experiences, I have learned about."
Throughout his travels, Stewart has come across items that he hasn’t been able to use in his works.
"I have a few African masks in my collection and, thus far, I’ve not found an exact way to use them in a still life," he said. "I think it’s important to know the use of the objects I put in the paintings, because the object has some relevance to the context of the painting."
Still, the artist’s works have touched a deep nerve with his collectors.
"I have come to learn that the people who are attracted to my painting see something they get, but don’t really understand what it is," he said.
A few years ago, Stewart asked a client of his to loan him two previously painted works for a photo shoot.
"I had the paintings for two days and he and his wife called me the second day to ask when I would get them back," Stewart said. "He told me that he and his wife meditate with these paintings every day and that they missed them and didn’t want to loan them out ever again."
Stewart’s artistic instruction started in the late 1970s in New York.
One mentor, the late R. Brownell McGrew, also has his works on exhibit at Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art.
"Brownie told me that there comes a point in time in which no matter who you study with or what you’re background is that you have to turn your back on that and leave it behind," Stewart said. "You take from it and you get all you can and then inevitably go out on your own."
Stewart continued his studies at the Art Students League, a little academy in New York, and was fortunate to study under several great teachers of American art, including Robert Phillips, Robert Beverly Hale and David Leffel.
"I also spent some time in Europe just learning from the works of the masters," Stewart said. "So you can see that I’ve had a wide range of instruction."
One of Stewart’s career highlights was being included in an exhibition at the Benrimon Contemporary Gallery in Chelsea, New York.
"The name of the exhibition was ‘Fleurs,’ which means flowers in French," Stewart said. "It was a private exhibition to showcase various artists’ styles on the subject matter of flowers."
The exhibit featured works from the 1880s to the present.
"There were only five or six of us living artists who were in the exhibit," he said. "The painting I had in the show was called ‘Dahlias and Egyptian Faience,’ and it was an honor to be part of that show."
David C. Stewart’s works can be seen at Hoffman Exotics and Fine Art, 1678 W. Redstone Center Dr., Suite 110-115. For more information, visit http://www.hoffmanfineart.com . For more information about David C. Stewart, visit http://www.davidcstewart.com.
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