Stephen Pleban's painting practice blurs the line between reality and imagination while portraying intimate relationships between humans, animals and nature. This interview reveals some of the ideas behind and themes that permeate his work.
GS: How have your paintings developed since your last exhibition? Have you made any changes to your practice?

SP: My process is very 'in-the-moment' and responsive and so I adapt my painting processes based on the subject, the ideas and the music I'm listening to. More than anything, I find I'm elaborating on, and more consciously exploring, the motifs and formal elements that have been in my work for some time now. For example the contrasts between thick and thinner areas of paint, the use of multiple horizon lines, the highlighting of figures, the ambiguity around time and place. I'm also continuing to experiment with colour and mood and have chosen to paint the frames of selected smaller artworks for this exhibition.
GS: What influences can be identified in your paintings?

SP: I have painted a few canvases that are influenced by my grandson's movements and his sense of joy and openness to life. I was recently inspired by photographs taken in the Arctic; and sometimes I'm influenced by photographs included in textbooks like an old encyclopedia called 'People and Places'. 

I'm influenced by the natural world and changes that are occurring through climate change. I find that in this very challenging time I'm drawn to experiences of connection - where people and the natural world are seen to be respectful of one another and desire a shared understanding. While my paintings are other-worldly and evoke curiosity, I hope that they evoke memory and are also regarded as relevant.
GS: Do you leave your paintings open to interpretation? Does their sentiment ever shift or unmask new connotations for you?

SP: My work is definitely open to interpretation. Recently, someone visited my studio and cried when she saw 'Music for Animals'. She was reminded of her brother and an event in their childhood when she saw the artwork. 

The combination of humans and animals, the connections to music, the imaginative and dreamlike sense of place, and the sentiments evoked through actions, are very open to the viewers' experiences and emotions. Because the process of artmaking is experiential for me, I also find that I see ideas in the work that present themselves later. Recently, I noticed that a painting influenced by a photo of myself as a child riding a pony, was painted in the colours of our childhood kitchen - the same combination of black, yellow and green that were in our vinyl tiles.

GS: Do you prefer working on larger canvases or smaller? Why is this?

SP: I have always preferred painting big! I find a large canvas provides more opportunity for experimentation and expression. When I went to art school many years ago now, I was influenced by artists who taught me like John Walker and Peter Booth. I was moved by what they achieved on large canvases and found the emotional impact more pronounced. In some ways, working big has become habitual for me. But I still enjoy small canvases. To resolve a complicated painting, regardless of size, takes the same amount of planning, energy and thought.
'I'm often influenced by the music I'm listening to.  The lyrics and titles of songs and the music itself when I'm painting.  I find that music puts me in touch with my poetic self and enables me to evoke imagery.'
GS: Your paintings combine aspects of reality and imagination. How much do you draw from memory versus subject matter that is outside of your own experience?

SP: The origins of the work come from images or references that are sometimes connected to my life and on other occasions I am open to random images that speak to me in some way.

GS: Each work differs from the next yet your upcoming series is cohesive. During the painting process do you envision a full body of work or do you create standalone paintings that form an exhibition without intention?

SP: Each work has its own identity and context, and yet there are clear lines and ideas that exist through each series. I find myself returning to certain figures and places in recent times because there's more to explore in those interactions. The regular placement of figures in a stage-like environment where they are interacting with objects, animals and technology gives the work cohesion. There is also a seriousness in the demeanour of my figures even though the colours are often vibrant and hopeful.