Stephen Johnston: Portraits of Metropolis

In an exclusive preview event last weekend, Hancock Gallery proudly introduced Stephen Johnston’s new body of work, ‘Portraits of Metropolis’. Born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1987, Stephen Johnston is a contemporary artist dedicated to the craft of Hyperrealist painting. 

In an exclusive preview event last weekend, Hancock Gallery proudly introduced Stephen Johnston’s new body of work, ‘Portraits of Metropolis’. Born in County Antrim, Northern Ireland in 1987, Stephen Johnston is a contemporary artist dedicated to the craft of Hyperrealist painting. Having shown pieces from Johnston’s previous body of work, ‘Thrones’, we were particularly excited to see what came next from the artist, and this fantastic new addition to his portfolio did not disappoint.

An award winning artist in his own right, Johnston’s work is collected worldwide. His most recent commission for Belfast’s Queen’s University now hangs as part of their esteemed collection in the ‘Great Hall’.

Implementing the painstaking and infinitely impressive technique of hyperrealist painting, Stephen Johnston delivers a perfectly balanced body of work, incorporating evocative representations of narrative within a remarkably crafted aesthetic.

“My influences at the start of my career, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, all the old masters. Honestly, it’s a bit shallow, but anybody that could paint realistically intrigued me. I was like ‘How on earth can you make my mind recognise those marks you’ve made on a canvas as something from real life?’ and I just fell in love with the magic of that. How somebody communicates through simple marks on a canvas.”

Portraits of Metropolis is an interesting evolution of Johnston’s previous body of work, still employing the use of the chair to present seemingly mundane objects, the artist continues to challenge the viewer’s preconceptions and create interesting narratives. However, in an inspired new approach, the artist implements a bold urban environment, ushering in a narrative that forces consideration of the environment to be equally as significant as the object proudly presented to the viewer.

In his previous body of work, ‘Thrones’, Johnston began experimenting with methods through which he could present ideas and concepts to his audience. Landing with the strategic placement of objects upon chairs to communicate meaning. His employment of various objects working in tandem within a piece utilised the relationship between the seemingly ordinary objects he had carefully selected to communicate with his audience. As the evolutionary next step from Thrones, Portraits of Metropolis moves to broaden the planes on which the viewer considers the work, both literally and figuratively.

Introducing backgrounds with vibrant street art inspired designs where there was previously a blank void, the artist encourages the viewer to consider meaning within other imagery presented as opposed to his previously restrictive gaze.

“I was getting bored with my work and now this is exciting me … I’m taking a new direction and I’m absolutely loving it. Approaching things from a different way, that’s why I’m so excited about this new body of work.”

In implementing urban imagery, the work directs viewers to look beyond the narrative of the objects at the forefront, and consider a deeper meaning reflected between the object and the backdrop it is placed in front of.

Interestingly, Johnston’s choice of urban environments equally speaks to the artist’s life. Born and raised in Northern Ireland, Johnston is no stranger to imagery and messaging found on the external walls of buildings. Having grown up in an environment in which imagery is used as means of communication to a wider audience, Johnston’s new development speaks to yet another level of meaning for his work.

Stephen Johnston’s new collection ‘Portraits of Metropolis’ is exhibiting in the gallery now until 6th August, so there is plenty of time to experience and view his new works. Sign up to our newsletter for regular updates on gallery and artist news.