Bwo presents I Wish I Could Be The Moonlight, a solo exhibition of new paintings by Ghanaian-Italian artist Stephen Price (b. 1995). In this body of work, the artist draws inspiration from various sources, notably literary, cinematic, and art historical, to create a blue period that provides a sense of contemplation for his melanin rich figures as he romantically explores their connections through nocturnal surrealism.
The genesis of these moonlit paintings are the poem Silent Night by the Filipino poet Alon Calinao Dy, and the film Moonlight by the American director Barry Jenkins. In both oeuvres, the artist was moved by the manner in which each author articulated their contemplation of the moonlight. In Dy’s opus, during the stillness of the night, the moonlight reigns as the only source of light, becoming a conduit of hope, dreams, and myriad possibilities. The exhibition takes its title from the third stanza of the poem which reads:
I wish I could be the moonlight
That shines so bright
In the darkest hours
Of your life.
The feelings evoked by this stanza led the artist to make an immediate connection with the acclaimed film Moonlight, a screen adaptation of Tarell Alvin McGraney’s play In The Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue. The resounding moments of silence in the moonlit scenes, emphasizing the gaze of the Black characters turned blue, became a moment of revelation for Price. Dazzled by the unique atmosphere provided by the moonlight as it reveals the vulnerability, quietude, and tenderness of his subjects, he decided to create a body of work with moonlit nights in which his charcoal-textured figures dominate the canvas in a setting that alludes to a mystical or heaven-like land, free from the violence and oppressions of the real world, where they can simply be, embraced by a nocturnal blue.
Employing a mixed media technique encompassing charcoal, pastels, oil, and acrylic on canvas, Price paints contemplative portraits of Black figures in abstract or natural environments, seemingly suspended in time. Although portraits with landscapes are prominent in this body of work, the exhibition opens with five miniature portraits exemplified in paintings such as Beyond or Oh Gently Passing Night #2. They highlight the artist’s abstract qualities, capturing the essence of his subjects with a focus on light and atmosphere.
Price’s romanticisation of this enchanted world and its subjects manifests beyond the pure replication of photographic images, by also referencing master paintings from the 19th century, tapping into his art history studies at the University of Northampton. Subsequently, he melds these influences with fictional imagery intrinsic to his visual lexicon. This is clearly visible in the painting The Path, his contemporary take on John William Waterhouse’s painting The Lady of Shalott (1888). Price’s sensuously impastoed landscape and the depiction of the female figure floating on the boat downstream in this sapphire-blue period illuminated by the moonlight illustrates the serenity and safety of the place, contrasting with the melancholy and sense of terror exuded by the original painting.
Despite the different influences that guided his creative process, I Wish I Could Be The Moonlight — particularly epitomized in the paintings such as The Letter #2 — may symbolize for Stephen Price what the painting Summer Night. Inger On The Beach (1889) signified for Edvard Munch. Beyond visual similarities, Price’s execution of this body of work may represent a moment of liberation and acceptance of his newly found artistic voice. Merging like Munch, the figures’ emotional state with their surroundings while distilling essential shapes and hues. However, unlike Munch, he centers Black figures, often in a state of nudity, that allow him to express through his gestural strokes, a field of emotions as he engages with various mediums.