‘Young Artists Have Learned a Lot From Him’: A New Show Looks Back on Stephen Buckley’s 50-Year Career of Deconstructing Painting

A new exhibition of the British artist’s work is on view now at Mayor Gallery in London.

Installation view of “Stephen Buckley: Close Cousins,” 2018. Courtesy of Mayor Gallery.

Stephen Buckley is one of those artists who, despite being in and out of the gallery spotlight, has always been a big influence on other artists’ work.

For nearly 50 years, the British artist has taken the foundation of a painting—a canvas atop stretchers—and deconstructed it. He creates hodgepodge, oblong compositions that breathe life into the medium’s tired reliance on the rectilinear form. “Close Cousins,” his new exhibition at Mayor Gallery in London, shows that his formula is still working.

Hanging on the walls of the gallery are approximately 20 works by Buckley. Many are new, done within the last five or six years, while others date as far back as the 1970s, as in the case of Harlequin. It’s an eclectic group of works, yet it’s hard to imagine any single painting being done by another artist.

In Garden (2017), for instance, a cluster of overlapping wood panels each feature painted shapes that look like a mix between a flower and a Rorschach blot. Flons-Flons, an oil-on-canvas painting from 2010, looks like it was cut from a kite, while across the gallery, the show’s biggest work, an abstract canvas with acrylic paint and rope called Cinturat (1996), appears as if it was sliced into sections and then pieced together again like a puzzle.

Stephen Buckley, Garden (2017). Courtesy of Mayor Gallery.

This is Buckley’s first exhibition with Mayor Gallery, and it’s been a long time coming. James Mayor, the gallery’s owner, has known Buckley for more than 45 years—since the early 1970s.

A lot has happened in the artist’s career in that time. After getting his advanced degree from the University of Reading in 1969, Buckley moved to London and began what would be a very successful period of exhibiting works that lasted through the late ’80s. He showed prominently with Kasmin and Knoedler Galleries in London, Hans Neuendorf Gallery in Germany, and Robert Elkon Gallery in New York, among others, and his work was included in a number of notable collections.

However, by the time the 1990s rolled around, Buckley’s career shifted as he took on a professor position at his alma mater, the University of Reading. “Some artists took teaching as a sort of sideline, and some took it very seriously,” Mayor says. “Stephen was one of those that took teaching incredibly seriously. If you’re getting up and you know you’ve got to teach, your painting psyche is going to be affected because you know you’ve got to teach and be prepared. It can create two worlds for him.”

Installation view of “Stephen Buckley: Close Cousins,” 2018. Courtesy of Mayor Gallery.

Now, Buckley is back in the painting world. And what’s more, “Close Cousins” shows that while there were periods when he was showing intermittently, he never stopped producing strong work in his own unique language.

“I think now is a perfect time for people to reassess him as an artist,” says Mayor. “He has always been a very consistent artist who made interesting, fresh, and intelligent paintings. Young artists have always learned a lot from him, and I think that with this new show they will continue to do so.”

Stephen Buckley, Cinturat (1996). Courtesy of Mayor Gallery.

Buckley’s exhibition is also accompanied by a new career-spanning monograph of the artist’s work published by Hans Neuendorf.

Stephen Buckley: Close Cousins” is on view at Mayor Gallery through February 8, 2019.


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