Described in The Times as “one of the most distinguished and particular painters and printmakers of his generation”, Norman Stevens attended the local art college in Bradford alongside David Hockney, John Loker and Dave Oxtoby. He was the first of this group to continue his studies in London, enrolling at the Royal College of Art in 1957. There he studied painting, and was awarded the Lloyd Landscape and Abbey Minor Travelling scholarships respectively. The Arts Council, British Council, and Tate were quick to acquire examples of his work, and in 1974, Stevens followed the likes of Terry Frost and Alan Davie in becoming Gregory Fellow in Painting at the University of Leeds. He won various awards for his meticulous, large-scale paintings, including the John Moores Painting Prize, and featured in prominent survey shows, such as British Painting 1952-1977 at the Royal Academy, and the first British Art Show, in 1979, alongside Lucian Freud, Hockney, and Bridget Riley, among others. He created “some of the truest and most distinguished paintings of his generation”, according to William Packer, chief critic of the Financial Times and who remained a loyal champion of Stevens’ work. 

 

However, Stevens is perhaps best known for his printmaking, to which he turned in 1970. Inspired by a trip to California, his early prints were poetic, deceptively simple scenes showing flowers and fronds set before clapboard houses. By the mid-1970s, Stevens looked closer to home for inspiration – to the English countryside and formal gardens, as his imagery became more colourful, lyrical and Romantic, but still imbued with a unique sense of mood and mystery. Blessed with natural ability and a genuine desire to explore and innovate, Stevens collaborated predominantly with the master printers James Collyer and John Crossley of JC Editions, and later Brad Faine of Coriander Studio, to master a diverse range of print media. Print retrospectives were held at the Arnolfini, Bristol (1975), and The Redfern Gallery (1980), and in 1979 Stevens became the first exhibitor to win multiple prizes at the British International Print Biennale, where he also won a prize in 1982.

 

It was ultimately for his contribution to printmaking that Stevens was elected an Associate of the Royal Academy, in 1983. There his recent prints were particularly well-received; the depiction of Levens Hall Garden was used as the lead image for its 1985 Summer Exhibition, while the entire edition of his print of Monet’s garden sold out on the opening morning at a later exhibition. Tragically, his premature death meant he was never elected a full member. A retrospective at the Royal Academy in 2014 confirmed his reputation as one of the outstanding printmakers of the last century. Despite the locality of his subjects, which often focused on the peculiar charm and mystery of the English countryside, Stevens’ appeal was truly worldwide; his prints were selected for biennales in Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, and Yugoslavia, and are held in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia, among others.   

The Redfern Gallery represents the Norman Stevens Estate. 

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Norman Stevens ARA

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