In the autumn of 1960 he moved to Elm Park Gardens in Chelsea to the studio where so much fine work would be made. White primed canvases with a springy tautness were bought. The structure of the paintings was no longer literal: it was entirely painted on the surface of the support. Heavy Ochre, completed in December, has four rectangles in the composition, echoing Quartered Plane. John Russell wrote in 1964, ‘The little Protopalettes of 1961 are among the most voluptuous of English post-war paintings.” A series of paintings starting with Reddi Painting, which has a central drawn rectangle and some divided areas painted on the canvas, ended in 1961 with Giusti Polychrome flying free with no drawn rectangle or division. Octochromatic of 1962 perhaps foreshadows in its delicate motifs the Small Spray Studies which in turn with their tiny double rectangles would lead on to the long series of Diorama paintings. One larger oil painting, prophetically called Early Diorama and painted on two adjacent canvases, is an explosion of form and colour and seems barely contained by the support. The present owner describes it as “Ian throwing all his toys out of his pram”. During the second half of this extraordinary period came the quartet of larger canvases Some Chromos, Parachrome, Sfumato and Quantachrome. They have never been exhibited simultaneously in the same space. One remained in Italy after winning the
Marzotto Prize, one is in the Tate Gallery, one in the National Gallery of Wales, and the fourth is in the Fine Art Department of the University of Newcastle. Once again the last of the series has lost much of the drawn form and detail of the previous three works. While these large works were being painted the series of Aspects, Circumspects and Prospects were made on paper. They explored many permutations of sprayed areas in different combinations of circles and rectangles. Then came Trace, worked on from 1965 to 1966. A single canvas but divided visually into two parts, it is the first “all over” painting and was completed in London.
In the autumn of 1966 Stephenson returned to Newcastle University to replace Richard Hamilton as Director of the Foundation Year in the Fine Art Department and stayed for four years. During that time a great burst of painting was possible by the use of the huge studios in the art school during the long University vacations and the extra money available to buy large custom made canvases. He worked unbelievably long hours and enthused that this was the right way for him to paint: all over speckled, sprayed canvases which now look so innovative, dramatic and absolutely beautiful. At the end of the four years he held a retrospective exhibition at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle.
The spaces there had the same dark gloomy feel as the house at Hunwick had. One could never quite see clearly: it gave the impression of war-time lighting. The scale of the paintings was impressive but the details were not illuminated.