Sten, Lex and Gaia create portraits for their upcoming show together.
Two different approaches to portraiture are working side by side in Brooklyn right now- and the styles are distinct.Comparing the two in the charged energy of an October day, you’ll agree the contrast is pronounced – drawing attention to individual techniques and influences. Sitting with the portraits for a few minutes, one sees that their similarities may lie in something weightier.
Sten and Lex began working in mundane portraiture on the streets of Rome in 2001 – a romance that continues almost a decade later. Drawing their inspiration from black and white images of European businessmen and the women who love them in stilted studio photos from the 1960’s and 70’s, they have plundered successive decades of posed formalized faces that are at times stoic, frank, and slyly droll.
Gaia is a study in energy, with increasingly loose lines thrown out and reigned in to wrap around the subject, whether man or animal. With visions of historical painting and European masters dancing in his head, Gaia is honing a vocabulary of symbols and signifiers while cross-shifting between painterly color layering and kinetically charged line drawing. It all accumulates in character more weighted than you might expect.
There lies the commonality of this combination – for such youthful protagonists, a certain weight, whether psychological or spiritual, anchors their explorations even as each is scaling new heights. It’s a highly charged, playful, and smartly grounded combination that reflects the serious times we are in.
When you ask them about their influences, Sten and Lex quickly call up old Italian films that pre-date them by Fellini, Pasolini, Rossellini, and Visconti. They also draw inspiration from photographs and portraits from magazines and from vintage photos found in outdoor flea markets in the many cities that they visit. They love the feel of the grain on those vintage photographs and it is that grain that comes across in their work with stencil.
Using a stencil technique they created called “Hole School”, faces appearing as dots and lines are selectively removed from the image. The resulting grey-scale is striking as if they had blown up everday men and women from vintage photos in magazines or daily newsprint.
More recently they have introduced another reductive technique, which they call the “Stencil Poster”. The duos’ work begins by wheat pasting a poster on a surface then cutting the stencil directly on the board. The pieces are removed and the stencil remains on the board, where it is painted black and then removed to reveal the final product underneath. Oftentimes pieces of paper are left on the final portraits like adorning ribbons that also convey a sense of decay and an ephemeral existence.
As they start a new decade they are toying with the idea of using more contemporary images, perhaps their own photographs of friends and ordinary people. But they’ll stay in love with the past and as they put it: “Contemporary art is too difficult to understand”
Gaia talks about his progressing ease and excitement with painting in flame tinged color that he began this year on the street and continues to challenge his creative skills, versus his black and white pieces.
“Logistically is easier to paint free hand in color. Painting in color is layering, free hand. With Black and white I need the projector because each line is very specific. Color work is always more vibrant and uplifting. Black and white work can be morose and dark. I enjoy black and white in my own personal work. The color work is more fitting for a community art because is more palatable and more exciting. People are initially sort of turn away by the black and white work on the street. Not to say that street art’s only merit is to uplift people. If the work is more permanent perhaps it would make more sense to make the art more accessible but if the art is not on a legal wall then the art is more making a statement. The intention is not necessarily happiness but more message or communication or contention,” says Gaia.
Thanks to filmmaker Charles Le Brigand, who got special access to the artists as they prepare for their upcoming show at Brooklynite.
Sten & Lex • Gaia at Brooklynite from Charles le Brigand on Vimeo.