Stephen Namara


Stephen Namara

Oil, Watercolor, Dry pigment
Born in Kenya in 1953, Stephen Namara was educated in the United States: attending the University of Missouri, the San Francisco Art Institute, and later San Francisco State University.

Stephen Namara has been exhibiting since 1980 in a variety of solo and group exhibitions, gradually evolving a style of art all of his own. His drawing skills together with his research into his subjects, has enabled him to produce a highly acclaimed body of work. His work is held in major corporate, state and university collections and he has been the recipient of numerous prizes in drawing. Prior to this show at Desta Gallery, Namara held regular exhibitions at Dolby Chadwick Gallery in San Francisco, Haines Gallery in San Francisco, Koplin Gallery in Los Angeles, and Atrium Gallery, St. Louis, MO.

Namara is best known for his drawings and paintings of people, objects and landscapes. His images are often “snap shots” of moments in his life. They speak to us without the need for words, while offering space within which we can experience our own mental and emotional reactions to the images, forms, and movements without the load of academic explanations. The non-narrative imagery he employs allows the attention to dwell on the formal and material aspects of painting, encouraging a more reflective approach to visual perception.

He states: “It is not enough to simply copy what is in front of you, you need to immerse yourself in the environment, taking time to appreciate your surroundings. Reality is a better artist than we are. Our destiny and perhaps our glory, is to try to imitate it with humility, to the best of our destiny.”

Namara lives and works in San Francisco, California.

Artist’s Statement

Notes on an exhibition- “Reality, Memory and Fiction”

The words below are notes from my sketchpad.

Henri Matisse was rumored to have said “Whoever wishes to devote himself to painting should begin by cutting out his tongue.” He suggested they use the brush to express their intentions. Eccentric advice. Right now, I am using a pencil, which I am sure Matisse himself did on occasions.

Words and painting? Can a work of art exist without words? Siblings in the expression family but not on friendly terms. Don’t understand each other because they use different languages. They mix like oil and water.

I have no words for what these images mean or what I intend to achieve by making them. But hopefully Matisse would not object to a few lines. Not only to the idea that sometimes art only begins to be real when the vision is crystallized in words, but also about how I come to do what I do and why. Keeping in mind that for some, a work of art is a smudge on the wall. It doesn’t exist until someone makes sense of it by attaching words to it.

To begin with, for me drawing is direct and expressive. It has always been central to my art practice and can be both the means to an end or the fully expressed picture.

I am interested in how light animates form and believe that drawing helps to unravel the act of seeing through both real time observation as well as photographic reference.

In any case, art has to do with being able to take a craft and explore it so that you have a vocabulary with which to communicate.

I like to think that how I use materials- conte crayon, dry pigments, erasers, paper – is a way of compressing the atmospheres of the time and place on a two dimensional surface. My still-life paintings, portraits, figures and landscapes, are predominantly tonal in treatment and have a low-key moody character.

I think that it is essentially this element of my work, which reflects the mystery of life. Art history, literature, photography, popular media and music; all play a role. I don’t want everything to be pat, to be formula. I want there to be mystery. I want there to be something in my work beyond what we already know.

And, as usually happens in art, the resulting paintings are improbable rather than impossible. They are a mix of reality, memory and fiction. I would like to think that I obey no strictures on how an image should be made or what it should look like. No rules are applied; the process emerges from the subject. Perhaps part of that might be a spiritual search.

One more thing; for someone who grew up nowhere near an ocean, I have loved it since I moved west. For me the ocean is the essence of creation and destruction, a concept that permeates a lot of my paintings and drawings. It is about balance, equilibrium; the ocean reaches for us and we reach for it.

I cannot lay my hands on a review of my work written some years ago, but the gist was that my art was about “alienation”. (An intriguing theory, to say the least.) That in contemporary society, alienation seems to be a common experience, as many of us are in fact uprooted, lonely and isolated. We are cut off from our own roots and don’t feel tied to a community. It is true that many persons throughout the world find themselves economically, politically and socially disenfranchised. Alienation, indeed, has become a universal experience and consequently the subject matter of the arts. Wonder what Matisse would think of that.

By the way, why should art and words about art be different from the rest of life? Understanding a work of art is a circular affair. The more you know, the more you see, and knowing the artist’s intentions can alert you to the personal, scholarly and political ambitions.