Norman Stevens ARA
Norman Stevens was part of the so-called 'Bradford Mafia', a group of working-class artists including his best friend David Hockney, who enjoyed early success in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Training originally as a painter, Stevens ultimately made his name as one of the leading printmakers of his generation, capturing in dazzling detail the haunting beauty of English formal gardens.
Born in Bradford in 1937, Stevens's childhood was marked by the contraction of polio aged two, and the separation of his parents two years later. However, he retained a good relationship with his father, who worked as a commercial artist and was keen for his son to follow a similar path. At Bradford Regional College of Art, Stevens befriended David Hockney, John Loker, David Oxtoby and Michael Vaughan. Exempt from National Service, Stevens was the first of the group to win a place at the Royal College of Art in 1957 (Hockney, as a conscientious objector, arrived two years later). He graduated in 1961, and taught painting at various colleges of art, initially at Manchester and then at Maidstone and Hornsey. Following successful shows of Hockney's work in London and America, all were winning praise for respective solo shows in the late 1960s (Stevens at the Hanover Gallery; Oxtoby at the Redfern), prompting the critic Edward Lucie-Smith to remark how these Bradfordians had infiltrated the London art scene.
Stevens holidayed in America with Hockney and friends in 1965, and again in 1969. There he was struck by the effects of light and shade on the simplified horizontal bands of the clapboard house at which they were staying. This led to a series of paintings of louvered shutters, often on vast canvases, which explore the complex effects of light, as well as the representation of space on flat surfaces. Some are monochromatic, while others consist of a bold, even lurid, palette. Based on photographs taken during his time in America, these paintings were included in a solo exhibition at Hanover Gallery in 1971, with several acquired by public collections such as the Tate and Arts Council.
It was also around this time that Stevens taught himself the techniques of printmaking. His lithographs of louvered shutters won instant acclaim, with examples selected for the Bradford Print Biennale in 1972, as well as New British Printmakers, at Brooklyn Museum of Art in 1974. From this point on, Stevens worked primarily in print form, firstly with intaglio, and in so doing formed a strong partnership with the master printers James Collyer and John Crossley. Collyer recalls how Stevens was a "slow and methodical worker", who channelled the frustrations of physical discomfort into his work, which ironically, "came out soft, gentle and calm". After small-scale etchings, including a series of monochrome country gates and hand-coloured views of Stonehenge, in 1976 Stevens made a large-scale image entitled 'The Darkling Thrush', of intricately tangled foliage and a mass of shadows. This was followed by a masterful mezzotint - the most complex of print media and thus seldom used by modern artists - of shadowed topiary, entitled 'Melancholy Garden'. Stevens, in these pieces and others, captures stillness and tranquillity, interrupted by the unnerving fall of shadows and the play of light and dark.
Stevens's work was included in many print biennales around the world, such as in Finland, Italy, Yugoslavia, Germany and Spain. He was a prize-winner at the Bradford Print Biennale on two occasions, in 1979 and in 1982, and was elected an Associate Member of the Royal Academy in 1983. In 1985, Stevens began producing screenprints with Brad Faine of Coriander Studios, in which the garden scenes were again rendered in meticulous detail, but now with heightened, acidic colours, of which 'Levens Hall Garden' is a fine example. The output of prints was punctuated by the occasional painting: Stevens undertook a commission in 1979 for the Imperial War Museum, and was a John Moores prize-winner in 1982. The Redfern Gallery presented a successful Tribute Exhibition in 2008, showing Stevens's work alongside that of Hockney, Loker, Oxtoby and Vaughan. In 2014, the Royal Academy staged a retrospective of his prints, whilst Bradford College put on a large-scale show of paintings and prints spanning three decades.
Norman Stevens's Estate is represented by the Redfern Gallery.