Stephen Cox RA

Last night, I went to a very beautiful exhibition by Stephen Cox RA in an antiquities gallery, Kallos, in Davies Street, in which he intermingles his own work in porphyry and marble with comparable antiquities.

It reminded me that years ago he asked me to write a short introduction to his work which, as things turned out, was never published.   I checked to see if I still had it.   I do and reproduce it below:-

I must have first met Stephen Cox in 1994, around the time that I was appointed Director of the National Portrait Gallery, because I remember having an animated conversation with him in a restaurant in Albemarle Street about the nature and meaning of portraiture and sculpture — how far the convention retained its validity in the twentieth century, to what extent its conventions could be stretched, and whether or not it was possible to represent someone through their foot.   I disagreed.   More recently, I have several times been invited to attend — I should say, to witness — the opening or unveiling of new work.   Each has been differently memorable because of the quality of the work itself:  its classicism;  its curious combination of being serene and mute and, at the same time, transcendent, intensely articulate in the ways by which it refers to the spiritual meaning of its material — marble, pietra serena, alabaster and sometimes simply raw stone.   Each work has also been influenced by the choice of setting, which has invariably been a part of the experience.

Most recently, we visited the two exhibitions held near his house on the borders of Shropshire and Herefordhire:  one in the new museum attached to Hereford Cathedral;  the other at the Meadow Gallery in a field by the river at Burford outside Tenbury Wells, not far from his house on Clee Hill.

Slightly surreally, we walked round and round the circuit of paths, like a miniature eighteenth-century labyrinth, admiring Stephen’s larger-scale work.   I retain photographs of him standing craggily beside his own rockwork and remember that Stephen Bann was there as well — not surprisingly as an interpreter of Stephen Cox’s work and someone who is enthusiastic, too, about the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, who has, more systematically than Cox, explored the relationship between art and the garden in the Pentland hills south of Edinburgh.   In Shropshire, Cox had created a small Stonehenge, very simple, out of beautiful, quite slender, nearly vertical shafts of stone.   Unlike the real Stonehenge, this one could walk through and appreciate the quality of the geometry, the subtle distinctions in the shape and character of the shafts of stone.

Elsewhere in the circuit was a tomb, reminiscent of the Rothschild travertine tomb now in the grounds of Waddesdon;  a stone seat;  an arch into the garden;  and carvings which reflect the amount of time he spends in south India.   They are representative of Stephen’s work:  half-oriental;  half-classical;  with a powerful use of the material qualities of stone and of memory, which gives his work its elegiac quality.




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