Stephen John Allwright is a self-taught artist and has been practicing since 1998. Born in Prince Albert in the Great Karoo, Allwright began painting in earnest after leaving Cape Town to spend two years in near complete isolation in Die Hel, a remote village in the Swartberg Mountains near his birthplace.
Allwright has refined an uncompromisingly honest and unmistakable style that is at times erotic and even violent but more often heart-wrenchingly tender. The work is a form of self-portraiture, although inverted: with the unfolding image as his guide, Allwright attempts to distill and decipher his impulsive responses to the manifest world by creating what he calls “an emblematic shorthand”.
“I usually meditate on a particular idea that has interested me while I walk with my dogs. The sound of my footfalls, my breathing and the dogs’ panting creates a rhythm that I try to include in a work. The degree to which I can achieve ‘accuracy’ through this process - including the context in which the process is played out - is reflected in the ability of said work to become a satisfactory repository, and thus a trigger, of a particular state of mind.”
For subject material, Allwright looks no further than his immediate vicinity. There is his own body, that of his wife, his dogs and the odd acquaintance who might cross his path. These figures are contorted, combined, mutated and gently abstracted to either harmonious or jarring effect. “I inevitably insinuate myself into this process and become integrated within the emerging forms.”
Allwright works principally in ink, most often black on paper. There are other media frequently in Allwright’s studio - watercolour, pencil and tea among them - but his
absorption with ink is profound and prodigious. “It feels quite close to the familiar physical act of writing. Also, I find the smell and the ritual in preparing to use it comforting.”
Seeking a more fluid means of working, Allwright customises the nibs of his pens to hold and deliver more ink than they are intended to, which permits him to achieve lengthier lines in one movement. “Ink forces me to commit to a particular drawing. A single sweep of the pen encompasses a distinct passage from one point to another. I have been using pen and ink predominately of late because the practice of making pictures in this medium has filtered into the way I allow a thought or emotion to emerge in my mind.”
Now living and working in Barrydale with his wife and young son, Allwright has exhibited with the Tyburn Gallery in London and SMITH in Cape Town among others.