My Spain


Review of Stephan Van Drake’s ‘My Spain’ Exhibition at the Competa Art Gallery 9th August 2009.

I was invited to the opening of Stefan Van Drake’s and Christina Kajtorp’s joint exhibition at the Competa Art Gallery on Saturday 9th August. I have decided to concentrate on discussing Stephan’s work entitled ‘My Spain’ as I could see that this had a range of issues that I found intriguing.

Stefan’s vision of Spain is unusual as it has familiar themes but explored through a diverse range of media combined with his unique way of depicting places and people through the eyes of an ex-pat American.

Stefan’s painting technique appears to be decided via a process of osmosis, with layers of paint worked into to create a sometimes luminous effect and this is particularly evident in the neo-impressionist daubs of optically mixed colours. Some of the paintings apparently taking many hours to provide this depth of saturated colour with intriguing focal points of interest within a sinuous composition. If we take for example ‘Along the Goat Path’ we find a circle of compatriots tending a sheep within a flowing landscape of trees. There is a distinct vibrant movement of the trees suggesting growth and new life in this pastoral scene. Although reminiscent of Van Gogh the colours, figures and landscape are definitely Spanish and thereby reflecting the local reference points to this painting.

There are a number of works using this similar methodology, including the ‘El Noche de Vino’, (which surely should have been used for promoting the event!), a Self Portrait, ‘Bar Oscar’ and my personal favourite ‘Mule and Friends’. These works have a fondness for living in Spain, and without being sentimental, show the ‘archetypal’ vision of life in Axaquia.

In addition to this series you can see a range of mask like portraits staring from the wall, sometimes disturbing but often a sensitive attempt at capturing deep psychological human emotions.  Some of the masks and portraits look startled and surprised yet others do have a gentle calm to them despite the strong colour and composition. My favourite of these is the ‘Portrait of Christ’ as this captures a strong and quietly confident personality painted in muted browns and earth colours perhaps suggesting the ‘earthly’ aspects of Christ’s life.

This is definitely an exhibition of work in progress as there are gaps here and there with some strange juxtaposition of themes, but nevertheless we can see a serious mind set preparing to take chances by trying all sorts of media combinations. The recent Kandinsky like images of the Competa church tower toppling into a rainbow of colour is suggestive of uncertain times and maybe an historical reference to earth quakes in the past.

This is a show worth seeing as there are a range of interesting themes emerging from Stefan, which I am sure will continue to expand and develop. It will be interesting to see where this work will go in the future and it will be useful to compare and contrast with this current production.

John Barrett

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