Inside the Studio

Christopher Stacey

What are the major themes you pursue in your work?
I am interested in what it is to be human. In particular, what it is to be a woman. I am interested in what makes us beautiful, not an idealised, received social idea of beauty, but rather the strange, fragile violence of living in a body. Bodies are beautiful, furious, delicate, dangerous, violent places to live. I want to paint the people, in particular, the women, who in spite of that, quietly triumph. I try to paint heroes. I want not only to paint flesh, I want to paint what is under the flesh. The bones, blood of course, but the mind and the desire, too.

I see the subjects all as heroes, as overcoming the awkward, painful reality of what it is to be alive, what might be termed beauty. I try to avoid deconstructing it, reducing it to meat. I want my paintings to be quietly unbreakable. There has to be a reason to paint, other than to record–something that perhaps is not found in a photograph, or even by looking alone. Perhaps it is to try to understand, to seek patterns or intelligence in flesh, blood, trees, mountains; what makes flesh human; trees seem wise and mountains godlike. I am hugely influenced by some fashion designers and in particular, photographers, especially Helmut Newton and Alexander McQueen, who wonderfully portray women as powerful, formidable, beautiful human beings.

What was the best advice given to you as an artist?
I worked as assistant to Gilbert & George for some years, but the advice they gave me is unrepeatable. So perhaps, “Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance” – Albert Maysles; or “Make visible what, without you, might perhaps never have been seen” – Robert Bresson. Although my favourite is by Edmund Burke on manners; it is absolutely worth looking up.

Prefer to work with music or in silence?
Both. I find that whatever I listen to, whether it be the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Nick Cave, Brian Eno, or Lee Morgan, all share a dominant, defined structure which is joyously subverted, swapped and played with. The Shipping Forecast does this job well, too. 

If you could only have one piece of art in your life, what would it be?
Anything by John Singer Sargent. Anything by Helmut Newton. The Rape of Prosperina by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, which looms so gorgeously in Galleria Borghese in Rome. Or perhaps even more gorgeously, The Roses of Heliogabalus by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. Although, having said that, I could sit with a Cy Twombly or Uriel by Barnett Newman all day. 

Who are your favorite writers?
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Murakami and his everyday, almost dull landscapes revealing extraordinary, magical beings. But for sheer precision, wit and craftsmanship, I read William Somerset Maugham.