The trees loomed, arching over the car, and as we got farther from the highway the dense green of the flora began to obscure our view of the morning’s low grey sky. We turned down a pebbled road, driving slowly, checking each mailbox’s number. Suddenly we realized we were right near the water. As we approached the house, the dense greenery parted and a small one story home came into view. Our anticipation sat with us like another passenger in the car.
The screen door opened and out strode Stephen Angell.
Crisp clean jeans and a button down shirt tucked in; he walked briskly, grinning wide, to meet us. After formal introductions and a brief explanation of the property, we were welcomed inside to meet Mia, Angell’s 15-year-old dog, and to see Angell’s work.
Just inside the entryway on a pedestal was a sculpture made of black Italian marble which Angell had entitled Contrapasto.. The curvature and smoothed surface pushing back against the rough nature of the stone, the supple movement of the form in contrast to the natural cleave of the stone was breathtaking–and we were only getting started.
An offer of mint tea was extended and slowly more details of this beautifully decorated home came to attention.
Angell’s intricately designed geometric marble tables were situated between and on either side of a patterned sofa and lovely antique chairs. A coconut sat sprouting a palm on a table by the windowsill and the river rolled past just beyond the edge of the backyard. The screen door to the back yard was open and the unusually chilly April air drifted through the house. Still, the space felt warm and inviting.
Angell began to describe and explain his work that sat on beautifully designed pedestals around the room. One in particular nestled in the corner grabbed my attention; Angell explained it was called Bisou. A smooth white marble reveals a female face turned just to the side: expectant, waiting, poised. Partially inspired by Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the expression is soft, sweet and joyful.
We continued on into the dining room where the evidence of a perfectly curated home continued to present itself: a family heirloom painted portrait of a boy, flowers on the table, a turtle shell repurposed as a wall lamp.
Three more pedestals presenting three more sculptures stood here, the second of the Contrapasto series and two works unlike the others we had seen so far. One caught my attention in particular: a Portuguese pink and green veined marble. Deftly shaped into a smooth, perfect rectangle pressed up against, and ever so gently set into, a viscous looking and partially unaffected Spanish black marble, polished only on the front facing sides. The rectangular shape pulled away from the black marble, a form trying to free itself, a form revealed, titled Orogeny 1.
A recurring theme in Angell’s work is the potential for movement, the inference of movement, which is electric when identified in something as heavy and stoic as marble. Consistently I thought of Brancusi and Moore, the soft curvature of the face and the sensitivity of the line echoes in Angell’s sculptures. The decisions where pieces have been highly polished and worked, versus where the natural beauty and materiality of the stone is allowed to breathe and flow, create a sharp tension that is captivating. The influence of the great Italian masters weighs heavy on these sculptures, but the light and crisp presence of them places them into a modern conversation and relevancy. Their immediacy insists they be considered in the realms of contemporary sculpture, that of Anish Kapoor or Mark Quinn.
In back bedrooms we admired old paintings, stopping at one in particular: an angst-filled self-portrait Angell had painted as a poignant reflection on The Portrait of Dorian Gray in the nineties after affirming to his family his status as an artist.
Soon we moved out into the backyard, walking down to the dock to check out the water. Angell pointed out the edges of property which his landlord owned and explained the history of the plantation home that sat on the property adjoining his home’s until the sixties when the main house burned down. Angell showed us his working fountain sculptures.
Beautifully geometric and painstakingly calculated, these works could easily be executed at a much larger size and would be an amazing addition to any public square here in Savannah–a project Angell has considered and is continuing to work on.
Strolling along the house and starting down a small path through the front of the property to look at the towering camellia bushes, we admired the last of the late blooms as well as a few sculptures tucked in and around the path. Angell began to explain his process and led us back to the house to tour his workshop. The tools he uses for stone working range from large chisels, to fine etching utensils, all from Italy, all worn but perfectly kept.
Sitting back in his living room, I couldn’t help but think of the amazing place we had found here. As a painter, the conversation that develops around the process of making can be arduous. It can be difficult to articulate the act of making, finding the words to define a life’s work, an act that is continually evolving can hard to pin down with simple definitions. It is the observation of an artist’s environment that I find to be the most vocal about how their work comes to fruition.
Tucked away in this quiet place back on the marsh, we found a property heavy with history and a low-sitting house surrounded by and filled with truly beautiful sculptures.
Much like the sculptures themselves, there is a definitive nature to the property–places where the natural beauty is allowed to thrive and expand, and areas where things are carefully kept neat and tidy. It is that juxtaposition–a perfect balance that creates a space for appreciation–and the potential for acknowledgement of beauty that presents itself in Angell’s home and in his work.
It is that lush organic greenery, the smooth rolling water of the river that I find echoed in the curves of his work and the openness of the marble that is allowed to exist in its natural state. A studio is a space for work to be done, for ideas to ferment and live and breathe. There could be no better space for Angell’s work to truly come to life.
Heather MacRae is a local artist and the gallery director of Non-Fiction Gallery. You can see some of her artwork here.