Bondo Wyszpolski

Richard Stephens: Thurs. p.m. at the Loft

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“The Dog Whisperer,” by Richard Stephens. This is his latest work

This Time It’s Personal
A solo show by painter Richard Stephens opens tonight
by Bondo Wyszpolski

Richard Stephens. Photo by Bondo Wyszpolski

For most of us, apart from the champagne and “Auld Lang Syne,” there’s not much difference between the end of December and the start of January. With Richard Stephens, however, it was truly a changing of the guard.
Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that we wrote about the Cannery Row Studios retrospective at South Bay Contemporary/SoLA in Los Angeles? Exactly. That was a tribute to and celebration of the 20 or so years that Stephens had run the offbeat gallery in Redondo Beach.
In 2013 he stepped away from the business, partly for health reasons and partly to refocus on his own work, and then spent two or two-and-a-half years painting at Destination: Art, the collective-run space used by several artists that’s tucked into an office complex in Old Torrance.
Holding his cards close to his vest, as it were, Stephens sensed when it was time to move forward and continue his own artistic journey. While remaining in his Redondo Beach home, he’s now secured a studio at the Loft in San Pedro. The Loft is an old three-story building with numerous galleries and artists’ studios, plus an elevator that belongs in the Smithsonian. Carol Hungerford, Candice Gawne, and Meeson Pae Yang are among the tenants; in the past you would have found John and Muriel Olguin, Ben and Peggy Zask, Annemarie Rawlinson, and so many others.

“Face Behind the Mask,” by Richard Stephens. This work portrays the artist’s inner conflicts and state of mind after taking over Cannery Row Studios

Back up and running
The Cannery Row retrospective, featuring the work of two dozen artists, closed at the end of December and tonight, Thursday, from 6 to 9 p.m., we can see what Richard Stephens himself has been painting for the past several years. He’s got a fluid and at times florid post-Impressionist style, as if middle-period Willem de Kooning had tried to paint like Renoir or Cézanne.

“Life with Janet,” by Richard Stephens. “There is too much pain associated with this one.”

“Installing the Computer,” by Richard Stephens. Suddenly a simple life is infringed upon.

Some 60 works are on view, and while not all of them are brand spanking new, the vast majority of them haven’t been shown publicly. There are light paintings, brightly colored and pleasant, and there are dark pieces as well. “Face Behind the Mask” is an example of the latter, although I’m not sure if it’s as stark as the difference between Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde.
But that’s why we have opening receptions, so we can sip the wine, eat the chips and the carrot sticks, and mull over where Stephens has been, metaphysically speaking, these past few years.
The artist remarks that the smaller space holds portraits and landscapes, while the larger room contains, appropriately enough, several big canvases. One must bear in mind that Stephens is a popular and successful muralist as well, so he’s as comfortable drawing with pastel on an 8” by 10” sheet of paper as he is covering an entire retaining wall.
This is, very much I think, a rebirth or rejuvenation, of a man who wore himself out running a beloved gallery for a couple of decades, but it also reveals the ups and downs and yet the dogged determination of someone dedicated to art, his own and that of others.
It’s a new chapter, a new year, and it gets underway right now.
Richard Stephens, a solo show presented under the auspices of Cannery Row Studios, opens tonight, Thursday, with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m., during the First Thursday Art Walk (meaning lots of other galleries too). It takes place in the Loft, 401 S. Mesa St., San Pedro (best entered by going up the ramp for the loading dock, just around the corner on Fourth Street). The closing reception is set for Saturday, Jan. 20, from 1 to 5 p.m. Call (310) 291-5316, email, or go to ER

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