Life’s Art/Gallery Showcases New Vision

by Nathan Oravec


Artist Stephen Hall followed in the footsteps of his predecessors, modern masters like Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and Ben Shahn, all of whom launched careers in commercial and graphic arts prior to their successes as painters. “I’m just making the changeover later in life,” says Hall, who recently celebrated the opening of his own gallery, NewVision, in Frederick, Maryland.

Following his studies in painting at the Allen R. Hite Art Institute, under the tutelage of painter/professor Mary Spencer Nay and mentoring of Nay’s husband, muralist/painter/photographer Lou Block, Hall chose to pursue a career in graphic design “in order to make a living.” That was in 1972.

It was a lucrative life-decision. Today, as President and CEO of Vision Integrated, a multi-million dollar design consultancy and marketing firm, Hall has garnered an impressive clientele roster ranging from Fortune 500 companies to the White House.

Three years ago, he decided to start painting again.

“I wanted to develop my talent in the Fine Arts as best as I could and establish myself as an artist,” he says. “So I started reworking my style.” Always largely influenced stylistically by the art of Ben Shaun, whose work he had been introduced to during his studies at the Art Institute, Hall strove to move away from those tendencies, “incorporating it, but making it my own.”

“I think that’s what I’ve accomplished,” he notes. “It has a certain maturity to it.”

As paintings, fueled by a renewed vigor for his lifelong passion, began to pile up, the necessity for an outlet in which to showcase them became the next step toward a new goal. “The question became, ‘How do I get it out there?’” he explains. “Traditionally, an artist attempts to find a gallery to show his or her work, but that’s a long process. I didn’t have that kind of time. With my marketing background, it made more sense for me to do it myself.”

“Plus,” he laughs, “by starting your own gallery - you don’t get rejected.”

Initially, locales were scouted to house the venture. As it would turn out, the perfect venue would be right under the artist’s own feet - in the offices of Hall’s Vision Integrated, located in a gorgeous brick and gloss, 3,000 square-foot, renovated textile mill, circa 1912, known as “The Glass Factory.”

“Our office here is so unique, it was the perfect place for a gallery. And by opening it within my own building, it becomes both an art gallery and a working artist’s studio.” The gallery, too, serves a certain artistic aesthetic. “There’s contrast between these modern, somewhat abstract paintings and the more traditional antiques [and décor] of the office. There’s also a contrast between the concepts of Fine Art - through the paintings and the personal artistic statements - and Applied Art, present in the marketing firm. Contrast is at the heart of all art - whether painting or graphic design. That’s what gets people’s interest.”

The gallery was named NewVision, in part because of the relationship it shares with the design firm that will market it, but also, says Hall, “because it is my new vision - and because our gallery is looking for artists with a new way of expressing themselves and for new content.”

Patriarchs & Prophets, the debut series by the artist known as Shall, which premiered at NewVision’s Grand Opening November 1, was indicative of this; A new way of looking at a very old tale. “One of the driving factors for me getting back into Fine Arts was approaching middle age. I’m at the leading edge of the baby boom generation. With the passing of family and friends, I began thinking about my own mortality. When approaching this subject matter, the question - for women going through the change of life, or men having a mid-life crisis - was, ‘What do you look back on?’ And I determined that it was the three major religions: Christianity, Judaism and Islam.”

Throughout the Bible, Shall notes, exist reoccurring themes - death, marriage, the father/son conflict - “life in general, pretty much.”

“I wanted to utilize these Biblical themes, which are very universal, and apply them to modern problems and thinking and style... in a way that they’ve never been presented before.”

The result was Patriarchs & Prophets, a dazzling interpretive look at scripture by way of illustrious abstraction and dreamlike imagery. Take the painting, David, A Man of Blood, Shall’s personal favorite, for example. “There’s been a lot of publicity about Michaelangelo’s David with the controversy over its cleaning. That David is very sculpted, very masculine - very perfect. Well, in the Bible, David was far from perfect. He was an adulterer, he was dishonest, he conspired to murder. He was one of the big time sinners, but he was a favorite of God. And when he realized his sin, he repented.”

“When I did my painting, I wanted to do a David that was misshapen and deformed - both externally and internally. He’s transparent, you can see through him, and red in color - the color of blood. That was my interpretation. Rather than this perfectly formed being, he’s instead very human. The scripture comes from Second Samuel 16:8, ‘See, your ruin is on you; for you are a man of blood.’ In contemporary terms: ‘Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.’”

A second series of Shall’s paintings, The Garden of Blue, was also showcased during NewVision’s Grand Opening. “It all comes back to contrast,” he says. “I wanted to contrast the colorful, detailed paintings of Patriarchs & Prophets and their heavy message with something lighter and more decorative.” An abstraction of plant forms, partially inspired, Shall notes, by Deft Chinaware, the ultra-marine blue (the base-color for all of his paintings) works of foliage, “are not anything you’ll find in your garden. But I think everyone can see that, ‘oh yeah - there’s a plant, those are flowers.’”

Though Shall has recently made the leap back into the Fine Art world, his marketing background is never far behind. “The idea is that the gallery will represent me exclusively and show my work twice a year, while other months we’ll showcase artists who are complimentary - or in contrast - to my work.”

“By also launching a web-site, which I was able to design myself, and having been nationally advertised, we’re gaining national interest for the artwork in the gallery.”

“It’s a very professionally branded gallery,” he continues. “My approach to marketing the paintings has been to brand them. Each series has a theme behind it. In my case, with Patriarchs & Prophets, that theme was the past and the future - looking at the past to navigate the future. To market the series, we’re going beyond the title and branding it with its own logo and look. We’re designing a web site specific to that series, and several books will follow falling in with the branded work. Each series, like my next - The Florentine Year - will have its own look.”

NewVision, says Hall, is already getting inquiries from other artists interested in the gallery showing their work. “We’d like to eventually have a dozen to two dozen artists represented. And what we’ll try to do, then, is promote their art to other galleries.”

Already, base-artists, Caroline Mayer and Noah Hall, have displayed their work at the gallery opening, with plans for shows of their own on the horizon. “Shows are planned for late spring. Right now, we’re all busy painting.” In February 2004, the trio will travel to New York City to show their work at the Jacob Javits Center for the International Art Expo. “That’s the next critical step, to receive wider recognition - to make agreements with other galleries.”

And to maybe sell some paintings. All work at the NewVision gallery is for purchase. “The one thing we’re trying to do is make it affordable.” In addition to original works, signed and numbered reproductions are offered, with a wide range of pricing available.

For Shall, he just wants to make a connection.

“The whole point of art is primarily to make a personal statement - is it successful? How’s the color? The composition? Is it connecting with you, personally? But we want others to appreciate it as well. Modern art is so open to interpretation. I’m not going to tell you the whole story. I want you to ask yourself, what are some of the mysteries? Stretch your mind a little bit. What’s beyond that? There are little things you have to dig for.”

“Every artist wants to connect with an audience - whether it’s one person or one million. If one other person has seen what you’ve seen - and enjoyed what you’ve enjoyed - mission accomplished.”

The NewVision Gallery, 241 East Fourth Street, Frederick, MD, is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and the first Saturday of each month from 4-9 p.m. for Frederick’s Gallery Walk. Additional weekend times are available by appointment. For more information, call 301-698-9751, email info@newvisiongallery.com or visit www.newvisiongallery.com.