Land of the Giants

by Craig Wilson

From the ice‐age to the dole‐age / there is but one concern...

To misquote Steven Patrick Morrissey; some girls are indeed bigger than others. And while the cast of giantesses in Carl Stimpson’s most recent paintings certainly take some beating in this regard, scale is not simply a question of perspective. Who are these monstrous glamour girls and where have they come from? Why do they appear to stalk the rooftops of an abandoned, anachronistic London?

For over a decade, Stimpson’s practice has drawn on a variety of sources in the development of both its form and content – namely the ‘ligne claire’ technique inaugurated by Belgian cartoonist and Tintin creator, Hergé; late‐twentieth‐century British popular music and the trademarks of well‐known industrial brands.

While the paintings may deliberately ape the graphic simplicity and bold visual language of their pop cultural references, this belies the intricacy of the methods used in the process of their composition. These involve (among others) the use of photography, Photoshop and the painstaking, letter‐by‐letter extraction of text from Tintin comics. Once this process of collage and digital manipulation is complete, the image is transferred to acetate and projected on to paper for the next study to be made. At this point the photographic source material is refined and translated into ‘clear line’ and inked in for colour reference. This study is then transferred to acetate and projected on to canvas, at which point the final painting is executed.

On these canvases, the uniformity of paint application and meticulous brushwork are unerringly democratic — an eyelash is treated with the same care and attention as the tail of a letter ‘e’. Partly this ‘all‐over’ technique is born of fidelity to the mechanically printed methods used to produce those images that Stimpson references throughout his work. But a commensurate result is one of flattening and consolidation — creating a kind of parallax effect through which the viewer’s attention often shifts between an assumed background and foreground. In this way, the paintings are always‐already interrogating the veracity of their own invented world as well as our own cultural fascination with images and their ultimate (un)reliability. In this most recent body of work we are also witness to a hitherto unseen self‐reflexive experiment whereby details or characters from earlier paintings appear on subterranean billboards or tower block hoardings, adding yet another layer of fictive density and uncanniness.

The invocation of brand trademarks (of products used by the artist over the course of his career) has become an increasingly prominent trope in recent works. For Stimpson, these brands have taken on the sacramental power of talismans — the touchstones of his working life. By lovingly tracing the bounding lines of these brand names, the painter divests them of their linguistic integrity – the walls do, in fact, come tumbling down and the sovereignty of the painted image is reaffirmed. Similarly (though conversely) oblong tower block windows can be seen to incant the blank ‘I’ of their unknowable subjects — each representing the anonymous life of its occupant(s). The written word, urban landscape and human form are irrevocably entwined and interchangeable.

The almost invasive deployment of pop song lyrics in these paintings creates yet further possibilities of interpretation and narrative disjuncture. Although the pop songs from which these lyric utterances derive could be considered the wellspring of Stimpson’s creative imagination, their inclusion in these paintings often provides not clarification, but rather, further obfuscation.

By doggedly interrogating his own obsessions and desires, Stimpson pulls us through the looking glass into a topsy‐turvy world where siren colossi roam and brutalist architecture sings.

​​​​​​Clear Line Clash