Walking down the hallways of the Savannah Law School last Thursday evening, Stephen Darr’s paintings explode on the wall like a color theory project on steroids. Bright colors, in familiar yet unexpected color schemes, weave in zig-zagging strips through his compositions, painted with acrylic on canvases ranging from two to three feet squares. The patterns draw in the viewer, as the lines dance slowly backwards and forwards, teasing the eye. During Darr’s closing reception, the Law School’s halls were lined with an eager audience, entranced by the compositions.
The Savannah Law School, located in the beautifully renovated former Warner A. Candler Hospital overlooking Forsyth Park on Drayton Street, is unexpectedly perfect for Darr’s work. Like the renovated hospital, Darr’s story is one of a second life.
Forty years ago Darr graduated with a BFA in fine art. He went on to follow a ‘traditional’ career path, retiring in 2012 after working as an Administrative Assistant at SCAD for the last four and half years of his career. His office was in Alexander Hall, home to SCAD’s painting, printmaking, and ceramics departments. Following his retirement, Darr began painting and now devotes nearly all of his time to his latent passion.
“Color is it for me,” Darr said, “For me it’s about optics and color’s effect on people.” Darr begins each work from a grid system, and then allows the color to take over. The resulting patterns seem vaguely arabesque, and Darr cites Mayan and Aztec motifs as an inspiration.
Within the compositions, there are surprises to be found. In “On the Grid 11” a small aqua triangle peeks out from the vivid red and purple lines, creating a small, unanticipated splash in the sea of rich hues. “I paint the edges of the painting too, and sometimes there are surprises there- a color or pattern change,” Darr said with a grin.
Despite the technical nature of his work, Darr’s playfulness is truly on display, from the little secrets he hides in the paintings, to the ‘diamond’ orientation of some of his works (see On the Grid 5), and of course, in his true embrace of color.
Darr had his first solo show, “On the Grid”, at Non-Fiction Gallery last October and doesn’t seem to be slowing down. He is now working a on new body of work which will be on exhibit in April at Hospice Savannah.
“With this new work, I’ve been influenced more by [the patterns of] circuit boards and underground subway maps.” Further Darr has been experimenting with size and modular sets of paintings, in groups of two or four, that match up on all four sides and can be rearranged to create multiple unique compositions.
At the suggestion that he is approaching his work like an experiment in color theory and pattern design, Darr thinks a moment then says, “I’m exploring me more than anything.”
While his work may be on the grid, Darr is leading a life that is inspiringly off the grid, reminding us that there is always a muse silently calling us and its never too late to respond.
Hospice Savannah Art Gallery
April 2nd to June 30th
Reception, Thursday April 24th 5:30 to 7:30 pm
All images from stephendarrart.com. Used with Artist’s permission.