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Pools and Reflections
by Gerrit Henry

Todd Stone is not, he says, unnaturally interested in human feet. But, for the past two years, he has been engaged in a lively, ongoing painterly dialogue with that substance in which feet often find themselves – agua, that liquid which W.C. Fields detested above all, H2O plain water.

It’s been a long time coming. For the past 20 years or so, Stone had been a committed abstractionist – “Braque and Kandinsky, Mondrian and Pollock,” he says, “these were my masters.” The results were biomorphic, semi-gestural jottings in warm, clean coloristic tones that bespoke Stone’s conviction of “the interrelatedness of all things” in hearty, yet delicate, measure.

A protégé, however – especially of such mentors as the above – can only go at it for so long without a certain despiritualization setting in. On trips in the ‘90s to his rural retreat in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, Stone became aware of – indeed, became possessed by – the surrounding landscape. Soon he was doing winter landscape along the Delaware River “four months of the year,” he remembers. “My hands were always cold. It took me months to thaw out.” Eventually, he would be seeking, and seeking hard, not to map “natural patterns of change, but to capture the transcendent moment” in nature.

In another of the many aesthetic awakenings that have gone to make up his recent career, the formerly snowbound Stone discovered a world of landscape in his own house – “I saw the landscape in the bathtub,” he says. “The oceanic feeling you get when you’re by the water? That’s there, if your focus is there. The mountains – they’re there.”

As was, perhaps preeminently, Stone’s body. He began to “portray the way it looks to me being in me, the way I look to myself in my body.” Hence, the slyly ubiquitous feet – as well as, on a more substantive note, “the water, the reflection, and the light.”

At the same time, Stone – who had been tending small gardens since his days as a young artist on a Bowery rooftop – became an avid outdoor gardener. Stone “began to paint the garden. I wanted to put more pleasure in my life. Over time, we built a swimming pool. It was the ultimate mirror! I loved being there.”

Thus, too, the work of the past two years – Stone’s feet caught in his own gaze, looking straight down without failing to note every surrounding aspect of shape and color and line. In the mid-sized Summer Break, spread-apart feet both expose and cozy themselves in the pool, intimate harbingers of the soulish refreshment to come. In Poolscape III, hills, sun, even bits of the garden are reflected in the luminously blue water, a water that often bespeaks imagistic perfection in Stone’s handling of the substance in, neatly enough, watercolor. And, in Steps, the view from above to a terraced sequence of descents plays up the lure, and perhaps the danger, of sliding on in.

The poolside paintings are wonderful kinds of glosses on themselves, myriad “reflections,” to paraphrase Carson McCullers, “in a blue eye.” The tub scenes – without or with finny appendages – catch us along to memories of childhood baths and first self-explorations, this time, at least, without adult supervision.

A fascination with the body’s terrain is equaled, for Stone, by a fascination with the vehicle for such curiosity, the bathtub. In In The Tub, no one is: the filling vessel resembles a pod or spacecraft that enthralls us with the promise of perhaps cosmic secrets to be revealed. “One of the joys of my life is hot baths,” says Stone, and the bathtubs series deals with “being immersed in fluid – with immersion, enclosure, and containment” and the eventual release.

And the aesthetic – even the psychophilosophical – outcome of it all? Stone likes to see himself poolside, or in the pool (or tub), working along in the matter and manner of his perceptions and revelations as steadily as the hum of the pool filter below. “I capture the moment,” he explains. “I’m there, and I recognize it, It’s meditative. It’s quiet. But under the surface, there’s work going on.”


Gerrit Henry is a contributing editor for Art News and reviews monthly for Art in America. He has published feature and critical articles in The New York Times, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times, People, After Dark, and Art International, and has served as art critic for The New Republic.
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