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Stephen Gray

Stephen Gray
Stephen originally studied at the West Sussex College of Design and has over twenty five years’ experience of graphic design and production management. His career includes roles as senior designer, production manager and art director for a variety of commercial organisations both in the UK and abroad. Despite being an advertising agency veteran, Stephen’s eye for a clean modern line is unmatched and he is able to include some of the world’s biggest brands within his portfolio.

He lives in Oxfordshire by the River Thames and his past and current work evokes time spent walking in the early morning.

Artist statement
Treescapes and skylines is current theme of Stephen Gray’s ink and watercolour, a series that explores the countryside and waterways around where he lives in Oxfordshire.

This series of paintings takes as its theme a circular riverside walk between Culham and Sutton
Courtenay, offering observations and impressions of the landscape. Rather than a literal interpretation, the paintings explore the sense of space around and along the river, presenting a response to what it feels like to be part of the changing seasons.

While the larger paintings take the river as their theme and offer a glimpse of the walk itself, the smaller paintings show rather more of the medium itself: ink and water on stretched watercolour paper. These smaller works are experiments with the technique, study pieces that explore the flow of the ink on the surface and often suggest a landscape or mood that is then developed into a larger work.

“The starting point with my painting, from the conceptual process through to the finished work, is
influenced by location and the medium I’m using,” Stephen said. “This series is largely influenced by
being out in the country. I have always been a country boy and I still live by the river, walking in the
fields every day and enjoying the changing views and light through the seasons. These are landscapes inspired by these experiences but the particular technique of ink on paper I have used in this series is as much of a theme as the treescape and skylines themselves.”

Now a member of the Oxford Art Society, Stephen originally studied at the West Sussex College of
Design and has a background in graphic design and illustration, working for design consultancies
and advertising agencies in the UK and overseas. His paintings reflect aspects of his training and
experience, showing a keen eye for graphic content, surface texture and detail, all tied to a strong use of colour. However, having revisited the work of a number of artists whom he admires, Stephen took a fresh look at his own work.

“I was reminded how very simple good work can be,” he said. “It made me realise that a lot of my
paintings are quite highly worked and I felt that I wanted to strip it back, to work as simply as possible. I started to experiment with ink on watercolour paper and I found a distinctive reaction - a sort of secondary ochre - when the two come together. It is an unpredictable reaction and it gave me a freedom to work in a new way.”

“For me it is unusual to be working with the unknown. I am used to knowing exactly the effect I am
trying to achieve so it has been quite a challenge to work with this very loose approach. The time on
the paper is very short and the work is done in one take. The consideration of how it might look runs
through my mind, like a form of mental rehearsal, before I start but the unpredictability of the technique means that one cannot be tentative. I found that I had to work quickly and that problems only arose when I started thinking about it too much. The dried result is very different to the first-finished work but I quickly discovered that I had to walk away from a painting and not revisit it, that the first image is the only one that matters.”

Many of the paintings demonstrate this particular approach but the work also shows how the technique has developed. Still working with ink but also with water colour and gouache, Stephen has refined the technique, finding more detail and allowing a greater degree of structure in the paintings.

“There are elements of the free-flowing approach I first found with ink on a brush in these most recent works but there is not necessarily the same spontaneity across the whole painting. These later paintings show an exploration of a particular technique and offer a counterpoint, rather than a repetition, of the original style. I hope people will enjoy seeing them.”
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