A stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of affair in Erica Stephens 'Paintings for a Lost Lover' at Ro2 Art
In early March, before the world halted, I was stopped in my tracks by a different but equally powerful influence. At Ro2, the small contemporary art gallery in Dallas’ Cedars neighborhood, the walls are holding a collection of work by Dallas artist Erica Stephens.
Her show, ‘Paintings For A Lost Lover,’ is a collection of paintings created during and after a love affair. The lead into the exhibit says, “At the age of 39 during the course of a lingering romance, the artist created a series of paintings inspired by and named for a collection of poetry she and her lover read together. The artist neither regrets beginning nor ending the affair.”
The collection is striking and vulnerable. Under the abstract images Stephens has rendered, the paintings bare a heartbeat that is palpable as you journey through an experience of love and human connection.
Stephens’ methods utilize paint and other mediums, applied on her canvas with tools traditionally used in cake decorating. The dimensionality of the paint feels safe, like your favorite cake from your grandmother on your birthday. But there’s a disquieted energy underneath the application – Stephens’ emotion and lifeforce apparent in every methodical stroke.
Subway Face (after Langston Hughes) is a picture of divergence. In his poem, Hughes tells a short but powerful story of two people who take different bus routes. I thought of my own relationships, and the times I’ve sent mixed signals, or thought I was on the same direction as a partner, only to learn that our vision of the future wasn’t aligned. Behind the emotion of separation, however, Stephens has included a blooming image of colorful flowers. Even in the moments we find ourselves at odds, hope is present. For me, the combination of stark honesty and promise is part of what makes this collection so prescient.
Nestled in between the large pieces are smaller paintings that represent a specific season. And when you take the collection as a whole it is cyclical. One example is the painting Advice (after Langston Hughes). The small painting shows an abstracted bird plummeting.
I thought of the phases of love and relationships. First there is an attraction which leads to a spark or connection, then the passion builds, things become more familiar, and in the familiarity, our darkness comes to the surface and a descent begins. Then, we work to get back to that original spark of beginning. No matter the length of the relationship, we often go through these phases over and over again throughout its duration.
Stephens has captured each season of the affair with an unbridled amount of heart and vulnerability. The abstraction of love and passion, day to day monotony [profoundly clear in Monotony (after Langston Hughes)], the shadows we carry [painfully present in The White Ones (after Langston Hughes)], and the biology of physical connection [Curious (after Langston Hughes)] , can all be seen and felt in her magnificent shapes. I sat down in the middle of the gallery and read Langston Hughes as I traveled through the work. The collection sort of gives you permission to do that: to be a little imperfect in how you view it, to be familiar enough to read along with the lovers. Stephens’ work folds you into her experience, into the bed sheets, into the arguments, and into the quiet that comes after it’s all over and you are forever different.
I left the gallery with a desire to nurture the people in my life who “get” me. I was contemplative about the complexity of love. I’ve been reading more poetry since I visited ‘Paintings For A Lost Lover.’ I’ve been more open to the darker parts of my relationships, and the pain we all carry. I find I’m reflective about which phase of love I’m in with each of my people – hopeful for what is coming soon and appreciative of the moment I'm in.
Erica Stephens | ‘Paintings For A Lost Lover’ is currently on exhibition at Ro2 Art Gallery. The show has been extended through March 28, 2020. In response to the CDC’s recommendations for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Ro2 Art is open by appointment only. To schedule your visit, call 214-803-9575. Ro2 Art is located in the Cedars Neighborhood, 1501 South Ervay, Dallas. For ongoing updates and additional exhibits, please visit www.Ro2art.com.