Text from the exhibition Among the Jaggies, Along the Seams
Mark Stebbins’ small-scale acrylic paintings overflow with detail, often giving the appearance that they are composed of other media. Grids of coloured squares might imitate pixels, rows of tiny lines can become stitches in patterned textiles. Stebbins’ work generally explores the relationships between various visual media, drawing from the history and traditions of abstract painting, handicrafts, textiles, digital images, pixel art and glitch art. His compositions allow these forms to collide, merge and transform.
The works in this exhibition conflate the appearances of digital and analog painting. In many of the new works Stebbins opts for a layered, cut-and-paste aesthetic. The appearance is of having been assembled with digital image editing software such as Photoshop. Hard-edged shapes made of pixels, textiles, brushstrokes and other painted textures are layered against each other and a variety of backgrounds: unprimed canvas, painted skies, grey and white checkerboards (indicative of the transparent alpha channel in Photoshop), bare wood panel, the gallery wall. The playful, spatial ambiguity arising from these multiple backgrounds and shiftable layers suggest an environment in which everything is malleable and in flux.
The digital tools within image editing software are generally based on real world analogues: tools, techniques and processes from painting and photography; for example, the brush, eraser, dodge and burn tools. For Stebbins, the influence comes full circle as the logic of the virtual workspace is re-imported into the physical workspace of his paintings.
Other new paintings in the exhibition further the comparison with digital imaging by adopting an entirely gridded/pixelated field. Using acrylic ink to paint thousands of coloured squares, Stebbins works “pixel-by-pixel” to assemble what looks like gestural brushwork captured in a low-resolution digital image. These brushstrokes arise from nothing more than the repetition and shifting of patterns within a grid, and therefore do not trace the hand of the artist in the way one might expect. Instead, the artist’s hand is present in the precise, repetitive labour of the works’ construction, aligning more closely with a craft discipline such as cross-stitch than expressionist painting. Stebbins’ blockly pixelation at once implies digitization in appearance and handicraft in method. It brings together new frontiers of image-making both past and present: in structure alluding to the rich history of the grid in modernist abstract painting, in colour-shifting palettes mimicking the experimental aesthetics of contemporary glitch art.
The paintings in this exhibition celebrate these types of crossovers and connections. The “jaggies”–evident pixelation, especially stair-stepped diagonal and curved lines–might be a critical term in computer and video game graphics, but Stebbins deploys the word and aesthetic enthusiastically. His hand-painted pixels straddle visual domains and traditions, rewardingly placing the viewer among the jaggies and along the seams.