Edmonton artist Stephen Ferris explores mysteries of childhood in his exhibition The Book of 7
He can’t sit still. Nor can he make eye contact for more than a few seconds. Edmontonian Stephen Ferris sits in a fold up chair near the centre of a room that holds six of his four-by-four foot graphic art paintings. He continually gets up to walk over to a specific piece and point out the images and symbols hidden within, explaining how they relate to one another and his own childhood.
“The cats or whatever here, and then the tarot card … and this one had kind of like endless-looking little ships going around here,” Ferris explains as he sweeps his custom-designed tattooed arm over a painting on the wall.
Each black-and-white painting in The Book of 7 is mesmerizing. And each one holds its own loose “theme.” One has an strong psychedelic feel, with an elephant-Buddha hybrid (think Death From Above 1979’s latest album art) beside an angel-winged hippy version of lady justice with swords balancing her scales. Another looks like the hillside favelas of Rio de Janeiro, climbing up a cliff of geometric squares, rectangles, and circles with two separate staircases that lead the eye upwards. A third entitled “Sea to Sky” features wheels in various forms that perhaps represent the advent of man’s curiosity, which transitions to exploration abroad the oceans and above the sky, stars twinkling in the bottom right corner. This could go on.
Like most kids his age, his childhood was filled with comic books, encyclopedias, and slightly off-putting cartoons like Fantastic Planet (1973). But along with themes of fantasy, futurism, and folklore are symbols that come straight from Ferris’ specific childhood in Northern B.C., like totem poles and massive tree roots. His images aren’t easily spelled out in a particular order or striking influence, but instead hold a literal mashup of memory and mathematics.
“It’s just random and organic, and kind of just grows,” Ferris says. “I kind of mix things together because I use other shapes and forms to fill out the spaces.”
Biology is also an evident force in his images with contradictions between man and machinery throughout his work. Strong Roman-esque face profiles are found in a few, peering through telescope-type objects or speaking smoke that becomes a human collective.
Ferris is an anomaly, in that he picked up his first art supplies only five years ago, spending most of his time as a competitive cyclist.
“I got like a C or a C plus in an art class I took in Grade 12,” he laughs. “I remember the first day of Grade 12, it was like masks on the first day and I just walked out. Like no, ‘I’m not doing masks, so stupid.’”
A happy accident of an artist, once he began his meditative paintings, he didn’t stop. Now a full-time artist, about three days worth of work goes into each four-by-four-foot piece, which he then sells online. He often listens to electronic and house to get into his meditative zone that can last for the better part of a day when he’s really into it. Though entirely self-taught and relatively new to art in general, his reputation has grown quickly. Ferris actually had his first solo exhibition at the Milner Art Gallery a couple years ago that helped put him on the map in Edmonton, and now his work can be seen across the city in places like Remedy Cafe, Blue Plate Diner and Farrow.
Until Sat., Mar. 17
The Book of 7
Art Incubator Gallery