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  • Lee Hopkins

ANDREA STONE - ALCHEMIST OF LIGHT: REVEALING THE SPIRIT OF THE CITY THROUGH THE MAGIC OF THE LENS

Lee Hopkins (in conversation with Andrea Stone)

 



In 1994, while visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, Andrea B. Stone was stopped in her tracks by Claude Monet’s The Magpie. The painting had such a profound and transformative effect on her that she credits this experience as the start of her creative awakening. Soon, she began experimenting with a variety of art forms. Ultimately, she chose photography as her medium of artistic expression.

 

Andrea’s photographs of modern cities fuse the sobriety of Mondrian with the exuberance of Kandinsky. Like the painters who inspire her, she engages viewers in a process of revelation. Her images tantalize and astonish. We think we know what we are looking at, only to realize that we are seeing something startling and new. Buildings seem to brighten and awaken, forging delicate and surprising relationships with the cityscapes around them. Urban spectacles gradually unfold, suggesting magical patterns and connections.

 

The result is a uniquely absorbing and rewarding visual encounter. Indeed, one doesn’t simply look at these photographs, one experiences them. Stone’s work creates a sense of existential reverence and wonder, capturing the playful, mystical life of everyday urban forms. We were understandably thrilled when Andrea agreed for us to feature one of her stunning images (“Train Stop” – Austin, Texas) on the cover of our “City” issue, and we were even more delighted when she agreed to tell us more about her creative journey…

 



Lee: G’day, Andrea. You say on your website Claude Monet’s The Magpie was a turning point in your creative journey. What was it about the painting that shocked you into re-evaluating your creativity?

 

Andrea: Well, so here’s what happened. It was probably the mid-nineties and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City for the first time, and I got a glance at The Magpie. And I had never seen that picture of Monet’s, so I looked at it and I thought it was amazing. I was so captivated by it that, even though I would start to go into different rooms and look at different paintings, I kept coming back to The Magpie. I was feeling guilty because I thought, “Oh my God, all this art, this amazing place.” And anyway, I gave in and just sat in front of The Magpie for, I don’t know how long it was, a really long time. And all I knew was that it felt like a profound experience for me, but I didn’t know anything beyond that.

 

It opened up a channel, I think, inside of me that I did not even know existed. Because when I returned to my home in California… I mean, I’ve had a lifelong interest in colour and form and design. But I never expressed it in painting or photography. I’d never done anything with it. And suddenly, I start creating these huge and wild floral sculptures. I would say, “I have something that got inside of me and I’m just making these,” and then my husband picked up his camera for the first time. I don’t even think I had known him when he was a photographer and I started looking at what he was looking at and he was sort of making, well, what I called suggestions (he had a different word for it) as to how I should take the picture—you know, “No, don’t do it this way. Take it from this angle. No, no, no, get lower down.” And finally, probably a couple of vacations later, we were in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and he just handed me the camera. He said, “Here…” and that was the beginning. And that was almost 30 years ago. I started doing landscape photography with him.

 

We were shooting medium-format, and I was becoming more and more disappointed in the results I was getting. I didn’t like the tonality. I didn’t like the dirt on the film. Labs began to close as the digital age came upon us. I decided that we would go to the most remote places, because we wanted to capture something quite unique. But even then, I was doing a very interpretive landscape photography. And sometimes quite abstract. This was all kind of simmering inside of me, and then I decided that I didn’t want to do this anymore. I was tired of climbing up ridges, walking through deserts in the middle of the night, you know, doing all of this and all while carrying film and tripod and lenses and all this stuff.

 

So, we got a digital back for our camera, and I just started playing with it up in Portland, Oregon. And that’s actually where all of the architectural stuff began.

 



Lee: After an exploration of different paths, you settled on photography, as you discussed, and with powerful results. You find parallels in your work with the sobriety of Mondrian and the joie de vivre of Kandinsky. These two artists are similar in being abstract, but some would say are quite a long way apart, even if they share a love of their work being far from “reality.” What is it that brings them together for you and your creativity?

 

Andrea: I took some notes on this because I was trying to explain it to myself and I think what brought it together for me was in the initial Architectural series, which is North America 1 and 2. North America 1 is where it all started, with me seeing these reflections in a certain way. The actual windowpanes of the buildings became the lines and boxes of Mondrian. And I think the reflections seem to just pour out of the steel frames of the windows, and I think that’s more like Kandinsky’s work, you know, where his colourful masses are quite independent of his lines in his paintings, and that’s where I thought the two of them merged for me. I’m going to read something that I wrote when I described my work when I had started the City Reflections Project:

 

“Conventional cityscapes melt away as buildings of steel and glass morph into canvases. Reflections become the paint and the camera becomes the brush. I think that the metal and glass represent the tension between elements in modern architecture. While the metal framework demands conformity, the glass reflections seem to explode, almost in defiance of a structure and seem to transcend it.”

 

And I think in that last sentence I’m answering your question about how Mondrian and Kandinsky kind of came into me internally; I think Mondrian’s work represents a very strong part of my personality that’s quite structured and conforming, and then Kandinsky’s work with a huge burst of colour, delimited by boundaries, is another strong part of my personality.

 

Lee: So it’s kind of like yin and yang. It’s showing two sides of artists because artists don’t have just one side. You’re a lover of the city, I’m guessing. How do you go about selecting the right building to photograph?

 

Andrea: Well, first of all, I’m very anxious about every trip we make, because it involves planes, hotels, and I am so sure every time that I’m going to get to a city and draw a blank and then it’ll all be for nought.

 

I do extensive research before I go somewhere. I’m looking at contemporary architecture because I find that the most interesting for my work and contemporary sculptures, reflective surfaces. I do all the research and then I think it’s Google Maps that you can put a little man on the ground and you can walk around the streets and everything.

 

I do that. But there is nothing like boots on the ground. I mean, to really know what you’re in for, where the light is going to hit, and everything else. So, while I do all this research, we learned over the years, if we go to a different city, especially in Europe, we get a driver, someone who knows the city and they drive us around and I think some of my best works are accidental discoveries, you know, that I never could have researched, I never would have known. But you asked me also how I pivot when I’m in a city and I have to adjust somehow the way I see things or what I do. When we were in Europe, this is probably the best example, I think about two thirds of my photographs were of just the essence and element of a building. It was like direct architecture, not architecture and reflection. And part of that was because it’s important for me to gain access to various elevations to see a reflection that you can’t see at street level and I can do that in the United States, I get some amazing access to rooftops. I mean, 500 feet up in one case in Houston. But in Europe I couldn’t do that, I couldn’t get that access. So, I just started focusing on the architecture and what seemed most important to me and process it the same way. They’re buildings—much more representational, but abstract.

 



Lee: Glass Curtain 1 is a blaze of colour, an intoxicating mix that pulls my eyes left, right, up, down, across. It’s the sort of artwork that I’d desperately love to hang on a living room wall. But in my excitement, I’d find it impossible to succinctly explain it to my friends without running the risk of disappearing up my own… well, you know. How would you describe the work to someone only just starting out in art appreciation?

 

Andrea: Well, certainly, I think that the experience I have looking at my work is echoed by people who, when we had our gallery in California, came to the gallery and saw my work. And what we also agree is that a person needs to take their time with my work because the pictures are quite complex. And I think that there the work is also stimulating like a puzzle. I mean, there are Easter eggs in these pictures, one or more Easter eggs. I think something you’re totally not going to expect.

 

Lee: “Where’s Waldo?” or something?

 

Andrea: Exactly. And I think it really arouses curiosity. I mean, young children would come into the gallery and some of their interpretations of what they were seeing were absolutely fascinating. But yeah, so an Easter egg. There’s always some piece of reality in the pictures, especially in the reflections. You will see a light inside a building, a staircase, a tree or trees, a car, a person, something. But I even surprised myself, because I had one picture—I called it The Bishop and that’s not on the website right now. I took it to my framer, and she said, “This is such a cool picture.” And in the corner, there’s Rob, my husband.

 

I said, what, how did he get in there? And there in the corner of the picture, caught in a reflection, is Rob taking a picture of what I was taking and I had no idea until my framer pointed it out!

 

I try to go to the newer sections of the cities for the modern buildings. There’s a picture called Screenshot and that is in, I think, the European Gallery 1 and in Screenshot it’s an apartment building that has a sunscreen that runs the whole length North to South of this building, and it’s really interesting. And the building is really, really colourful. And that’s a picture that, not until I was blowing it up and cleaning the windows in Photoshop, did I notice there were two people looking out the window at me taking the picture. So that is always fun.

 

Lee: To go back to Glass Curtain 1, it’s a blaze of colour. It energizes and enlivens you. How did you manage to make it so sparkling without it looking fake?


Andrea: The colours themselves. This was taken on a very busy London street—that was a challenge— it was an office building that had very colourful banners and furniture in it. I did do some enhancement, but that was one of the few ‘reflections’ I got during the four months in Europe, because what I was finding was instead of glass windows, I was encountering glass walls, which are thicker and they just don’t reflect the same way.

 

So, it was a colourful scene to begin with. And those colours that I think are sort of turquoises and magentas and yellow, those colours were there.

 

Lee: Okay. Did you know when you took that shot, “I’ve nailed this”?

 

Andrea: I hoped I did. This is a great thing also about digital—I can download the images, you know. I can’t remember whether we had our iPad there. I don’t think so because, as I said, this was such a busy street, and my husband was trying to play ‘policeman’ a little bit. I’ve got a tripod set up and I’m kind of partially in the street and trying not to get run over by a taxi or cyclist or something.

 

Lee: One last question, Andrea. You’ve been creating art for three decades. You have had many exhibitions, been featured in many influential magazines, are represented by many prestigious agencies and agents. If there was one piece of yours that encapsulates you and your work, a piece that you would hang over your bed and never sell, which would it be?

 

Andrea: So this is where I say, “How do I say I love one of my children more?” There’s a lot that I like. And I have sold this child multiple times. And I love to look at it. It hangs in one room or another. It’s over a decade old, and I’m still not tired of it. It’s called Layer Cake, taken in Houston. I think I like the structure of it. I like that there’s a section near the top that looks like very impressionistic brush strokes. The colours of it and the fact that I was hanging off the edge of a very tall parking structure across from this reflection, praying I would survive, and I think that contributes to my attachment to this picture.

 

Lee: Andrea, thank you so much for your time and wisdom and thank Rob, too, for his technical expertise. I thoroughly enjoyed our chat.

 


 

 

Andrea Stone is an internationally renowned photographer, best known for her mesmerizing portraits of the contemporary metropolis. Her artwork has been exhibited, celebrated and sold worldwide and is included in the permanent collection of Sacramento’s Crocker Art Museum. Many of her images, including those mentioned in this interview, can be viewed on her website: arstonephotography.com

 

Lee Hopkins is a London-born, Adelaide-raised creative and business consultant. An avid photographer, musician, and professional writer, Lee has nearly 30 years’ experience helping businesses communicate better for better results. He is currently completing his Master of Creative Writing and Communication at Adelaide’s Tabor College. You can learn more about Lee at his website: leehopkins.com

 

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