HAF New Photography
‘Watermarking a Masterpiece’
By Jon Feinstein

Forced Collaboration adds a new angle to traditions of appropriation in art history, stretching from early twentieth century Dadaists like Marcel Duchamp, to 1970’s and 1980’s Pictures Generation artists like Richard Prince, Robert Heineken and Sherrie Levine. Like Duchamp’s Fountain, or Prince’s Marlboro Man, Stephenson repositions existing images to change how we understand them. While these artists worked at odds with their source material (think Robert Heinicken's 1971 Periodical #5, which overlaid horrific Viet Cong images onto the pages of lifestyle magazines), Stephenson sees his practice as an ongoing conversation with the paintings' original authors. His commentary focuses on how we experience these historical works within the shadow of current technology, as opposed to a critique of the original artist.
In Stephenson’s work these digital markings not only alter the paintings’ original meaning, they have the potential to make them iconic.

‘A Forced Collaboration’
By Kevin Holmes

Artist Paul Stephenson has taken graffiti out of this contextual landscape and onto the faces of various artworks themselves. His latest exhibition, Forced Collaboration, at StolenSpace Gallery in London, features three series of works that explore our contemporary relationships to art, particularly how we see it through the veneer of digital technology.

Stephenson buys 200-year-old original oil paintings by known artists—usually of iconic or recognizable genres like still lifes—at auctions, and messes with them. He then takes a photo of the work, as he does in the case of his Watermark Paintings, and uploads it to his Shutterstock account, giving it the white 'X' watermark and Shutterstock brand that ostensibly stops people from bootlegging it. Stephenson calls this online version his "virtual original," then creates a meta-version (albeit physical) by painting this white 'X' onto the original oil painting, thus permanently altering it.

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‘Digital Deconstruction’
By Elly Parsons

Stephenson buys 18th and 19th century artworks at auction from known artists (Alexander Melville, Thomas Bond Walker, William Allsworth) and sets about ’collaborating’ with them, mingling old and new in a jarring way that the art world has rarely seen.

For Stephenson’s Watermark Paintings the artist uploads an image of the original painting onto the online photo sharing service Shutterstock, which applies its familiar watermark. Then, he carefully applies this logo directly onto the original, and so ’the work physically and virtually exists simultaneously, in two different spaces’.

Similarly, his Reflection Paintings start life at auction. Stephenson paints phone or computer screen reflections onto original works, commenting on how we’re increasingly viewing art through a screen. They’re the kind of reflections you might pay little attention to, but when they’re immortalised in oil on canvas, the effect on the artwork is undeniable. Stephenson explains, ’I started concentrating on these superimposed images, and seeing the beauty in them.’ The billowing cloud-like additions to Reflection on Jane Camp, originally painted by Alexander Melville, 1877, redefine Camp’s serene expression, and add a mythical aura to an otherwise face-on, austere Victorian portrait.

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