It all started when he was 11. The moment Stephen Gibb (of Windsor, Ontario, Canada) discovered the wicked and whimsical paintings of the Early Netherlandish artist Hieronymus Bosch (c. 1450-1516), he knew that he was going to be an artist. As he grew up, he was both fascinated and repulsed by the gruesome characters popularized by the American cartoonist Big Daddy Roth. Commercial icons like Aunt Jemima and the Quaker Oats guy, nursery rhyme illustrations of Humpty Dumpty, moon faces and any cartoonish character displaying an extreme emotion also made quite an impression on Stephen’s mind. And now he creates paintings in which clocks puke, eggs sleep and faceless eyeballs run hither and thither. “Everyone is quick to lump me with surrealism and specifically with Salvador Dali,” says Stephen, “but I think I have more to do with Mad Magazine than with Sigmund Freud. I prefer to think of my paintings as editorial cartoons for contemporary culture, or maybe cautionary fairy tales for adults. Greeting the viewer with an element of up-front humour, yet inviting them in for further analysis, since beneath the cartoonish appearance and characters lies a deeper, darker message waiting to be unravelled.”
So it is not so much pop-surrealism as “existential editorial cartoon realism” – Stephen has tagged his work thus because that way it sounds more intelligent, pretentious and funny at the same time. The body of paintings weaves an eclectic tapestry of cultural and social influences. At one moment it may make a single-punch-line commentary on pop culture, while the next it may construct a complex and playful diorama probing into the outer perimeters of human nature.
For Stephen, the artists’s job is to function as a manicule (one of those signs that looks like a pointing hand…), pointing out things for emphasis. It may be to draw attention to a social issue, a collective human experience, an observation or simply to say “Hey, I think this is noteworthy”. Whatever it is, it stems from a need to share ideas. “Since these ideas may range from the most inane to the most profound,” he remarks, “the role of the artist in society can be construed as highly valued or marginally trivial.”
“Silliness”, “madness”, “nonsense” and “absurdity” are labels that often attach themselves to Stephen’s paintings. Since he depicts representational things in impossible situations it is reflexive for observers to respond with a certain amount of puzzlement and confusion. He thinks that is an ideal state of mind that allows you explore things that are going on in your head, just out of sight. “I want people to think beyond what they may or may not decipher from my paintings,” he adds. “There is no right or wrong answer, only open-ended clues. A frozen image always has ambiguities. Is the baby taking candy from the stranger, or is the bad man taking the candy away? What I crave is that spark that happens when something registers in your mind that wasn’t there seconds before, and I feel like my paintings can help nudge people in that direction.”
Stephen’s website is www.stephengibb.com. You can purchase his works at Saatchi Art (www.saatchiart.com/sgibb) and connect with him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bubblegumsurrealism) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/stephengibbart/).
Take a look at his fantastic works – especially if you are in the mood for some existential reflection…or just plain mischief: