Although unarguably abstract, Stephenson’s paintings have always contained points of reference and departure.In all of his work we can perceive images within the marks, as we see them in cloudscapes or the pattern of sunlight on a wall. These are not the reality; they are our own visions. However, certain forms in the earlier works were built on two particular objects: a lifesize cast of the Greek sculpture of Diana the Huntress by Phidias whose delicately raised arm and falling draperies provided a structure for paintings in the fifties. A third-life size cast of an ecorche figure of a man, his limbs stretched into a diagonal shape appeared in paintings of the sixties.
The place, its size, the quality of light and the contents of his surroundings are, with hindsight, clearly discernible. In the Department of Fine Art at Newcastle, still a college of Durham University, which had provided light and warmth and allowed long undisturbed hours of work, the speckled style was established.
In the months between leaving the Fine Art Department and travelling to Italy he lived at the home of his parents in County Durham. The paintings of 1958 are dark and densely packed. The objects, palettes, chairs, a bread board, a wooden backrest, were to hand. The motifs surrounded him, and impinged on his view. They imprisoned his perspective as surely as the small overfurnished rooms hampered movement.
Italy, only fourteen years after World War II, was as remote as the Chinese interior would be today. After a month in Rome he rented a studio by the sea at Lido di Ostia. The sturdy supports of the Hunwick paintings were replaced by rough coarse sacking and, for the collages, by sturdy utilitarian brown paper.
Back in England he found a flat in Paddington which was as dark in decoration as the Hunwick house had been. He worked there for almost a year on wood panels titled Progressive Planes. Finer panels were fastened to the heavier supports. Fractured, cracked and opening layers supported paintmarks which flowed and spread onto the surrounding support. The series ended with Quartered Plane. The presence of rectangles on the picture plane was established.