Stephen Little


With the small exhibition, Brace, Stephen Little did something flippant, even vulgar to the whole genre of formal and conceptual purity in painting.

Roy Lichtenstein, when asked about the degree to which his work was an accurate transposition of the original, would reply that the faithfulness of his painting to the original was in direct proportion to its ascerbity.

Little's Brace is a mimicry of two areas. The first was the high formalism (or protoconceptualism as it was later called ; as things get on, names get better and longer) of Robert Ryman whose intention it was to override the painting with the means of its support and its overlay. Ryman's stylish and reductive oeuvre consisted, for example, in the measured stripes of a paintbrush or the articulation of the frame on which the canvas was stretched.

Far from measuring out all the parameters of how the canvas and the frame is given coherence, Brace is satisfied with a specific framing device for its application to the wall. It is important that Little diverged from the rusticity of raw canvas, raw wood and raw impasto and used virgin white calico over board around which, in varying shapes and permutations, were geometric wooden clasps rendered in high gloss.

Therefore the second reference was to the commercial bureaucracy of form – the hard whites with bold black and steely rims germane to kitchens and offices. You trade in your car, you renovate and update; having accomplished the harrowing and expensive renovation the interior is too prepossessing to inhabit, to handle or to touch. Customers are requested to take off their shoes. Not sealed with any acrylic solvent, the white cotton within every brace was porous and absorbent, prone to stain and rot-there were many who wanted to buy, no wonder they demurred. In a world of obsolescence where everything lasts forever, these paintings were the visual paradox of something too close to home and likewise, of a different order.

In short, Brace was not a categorisation of the internal limits of painting familiarised to us by Ryman, which is its initial commonsense art historical link. It is the imposition of a pervasive design-cliche (matt formica with a glossy knob) that is attractive for its ability to repel. The six panels, each a version of the other are 'closer to the original' than some at first glance will allow. The place for Little's paintings of this kind is in a restaurant with incorporated Alessi design, or an up-beat kitchen with black-and-white vinyl, or suggestive of the lambent beneficence of an office in a funeral parlour.

The fact that they were not shown in these milieux was necessary in order to draw the spectator closer to what the imagination struggles to escape when always connoting architecture's closeting em-brace.