With an impressive ouevre of figurative work already under his belt, the Zuma Beach Paintings by Stephen Wright, exemplify his skill at rendering photo-realistic water, light and movement.
Zuma Beach Paintings by Stephen Wright
It’s no wonder artist Stephen Wright eventually got around to painting the crashing waves and undulating surf of the California coast, given he was raised in Southern California. Wright, who has a BFA in graphic design from Cal State Long Beach, writes, “Water does not have a form; it adapts to forms created by energy. There is something kind of futile yet exciting about capturing the effect of water in a painting. There is no start or end point, just a fragment of an experience contained within a square or rectangle.”
The Zuma Beach paintings by Stephen Wright are rendered in oils and range in size from 24″ x 30″ to 30″ x 40″. Many of these works have previously been exhibited in the Fall of 2020, in a show titled Undercurrents at the George Billis Gallery.
From afar, the paintings capture the movement and light of the ocean water in an uncannily photographic appearance.
However, upon closer inspection, the thickly applied paint and vigorous brushstrokes veer into an abstract quality.
Artist’s statement (from his website):
“Now more than ever the beach is a refuge from constant bad news. As fires burn and smoke chokes us, I am more relieved than ever to visit and paint our local surf. And as visits to the beach have been complicated by the pandemic, it’s even a greater relief to swim away from the shore and have the whole ocean to yourself for a brief time.
As I leave the sand and wade into the water, I can leave man-made troubles and confront something that is natural and powerful. I imagine the surf as a place where Nietzsche meets Hollywood – a place where surface, light and image get crunched up in the waves and merge with something deep and profound. The desire to let that transformative feeling cross over into the rest of my life is why I began to paint waves.
Water does not have a form; it adapts to forms created by energy. There is something kind of futile yet exciting about capturing the effect of water in a painting. There is no start or end point, just a fragment of an experience contained within a square or rectangle. To feel closer to that experience, I use an open-ended painting process, starting at a single point or corner of the canvas and moving across it. My eye is always moving back and forth between light and form, always trying to decide which is more important as I move along. Sometimes these extended moments of decision-making elicit an expansive feeling. Sometimes it feels everything is getting lost in formlessness, and then there’s a struggle to bring it back.
Occasionally I will add a pelican, a bit of land or a boat so the painting can be anchored and the viewer has a chance to exit the surf. But usually I want the feeling of the excitement of being swept and thrashed around by something way bigger than us. In this sense, my paintings are less about capturing the traditional beauty of the local beaches, and more about the energy and transformational qualities of the Southern California surf.”
Wright has exhibited throughout the US and his work has appeared in Fine Art Connoisserur, Luxe Magazine, New American Painting, Poets & Artists, American Art Collector, The New York Post, and ARTNews. His work appears in numerous private collections internationally. He currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
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We are also fans of his figurative work, which is is outstanding and has a little Lucian Freud vibe to it, but until society – or at least Google- is comfortable with my sharing the naked human form without having to obscure or blur them, you’ll have to admire those on his Instagram feed: @stephenwrightpaintings
Stephen Wright’s work can be found at George Billis gallery or at his website: