Vallee, Jacques 1960s.jpg

‘I feel that I could go before a committee of scientists and convince them that there is overwhelming evidence that the UFO phenomena exists and that it is an unrecognized, unexplained phenomenon for science, but something that I think I could prove. My personal contention is that the phenomenon is the result of an intelligence that it is a technology directed by an intelligence, and that this intelligence is capable of manipulating space and time in ways that we don’t understand. I could convince a committee of my peers that the phenomenon is real, that it is physical, and that we don’t understand it. I could not convince them that my speculation is correct; there may be alternative speculations. The essential conclusion I’m tending to is that the origin of the phenomenon of the intelligence is not necessarily extraterrestrial.’

Jacques F. Vallée   
(Interview with Christopher O’Brien)

Peter Stichbury

Peter Stichbury
Anatomy of a Phenomenon
16 Oct- 15 Nov 2014
Preview: 16 October, 6-8 pm

Tracy Williams, Ltd.
521 West 23rd Street
New York, NY 10011
T. 212.229.2757


NEW YORK, NY.- Tracy Williams, Ltd. announces Anatomy of a Phenomenon, Peter Stichbury’s third exhibition with the gallery. The show is titled after the computer scientist and astronomer Jacques Vallée’s 1965 book, investigating and appraising data collected on unidentified aerial phenomena from 1947 until 1964. In this exhibition of oil on linen paintings, Stichbury examines the data and culture associated with unidentified aerial phenomena. Japan Airlines, Alaska, 1987, explores a case in which pilot Captain Kenju Terauchi transmitted information of an immense walnut shaped object flanking his flight over Alaska. It and two other objects were tracked on radar from the ground as well as from the plane itself. Terauchi was subsequently grounded. Mona Stafford, based on the famous Stanford Kentucky Abduction case of 1976, considers the three women who claim to have been taken from a quiet Kentucky road by a UFO and examined by its non-human occupants. Harvard Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. John Mack, who studied the controversial area of alien abduction and coined the term ‘experiencers’, was wholly convinced by the veracity of certain abduction claims; however, conflicting interpretations pervade this area of investigation, including assertions of witness confabulation, sleep paralysis, and false memory syndrome. Around 95% of ‘sightings’ emerge as homemade tributes to the genuine phenomena, employing a range of props, from barely visible strings, to digital manipulation to produce an image of a sighting. Multiple factors have derailed widespread scientific investigation into the subject: daily reported hoaxes, the Hollywood-esque portrayal of the subject in cinema and wider popular culture, academic ridicule, and government investigations including the 1968 Condon Report. The resulting demotion of the subject to folklore status leaves behind the flimsy shell of a subject, permeated by half-truths, hoaxes, misidentification and government disinformation, while the truth is pushed further out of reach. General Nathan Twining, Head of U.S. Air Force Materiel Command wrote in The Twining Memo, September 23, 1947, “The phenomenon reported is something real and not visionary or fictitious.” Jacques Vallée agrees that the reality of the phenomenon is undeniable, but posits that its origin may challenge popular interpretations, suggesting it could be inter-dimensional, rather than extra-terrestrial in nature. Other evaluations consider it could be military deep black stealth projects, co-opting UFO folklore to cloak it from public knowledge. Stichbury uses the tension between the eccentric world of ufology and serious academic inquiry to consider more universal human drives: the push to comprehend fully the human species’ place in the universe, to address the perception of isolation, to demystify and quantify the unknown. From these issues emerges the consideration of where absolute truth ultimately lies, amongst motive, memory, and strategic positioning. 

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Peter Stichbury

Art Los Angeles Contemporary 
Jan 30 - Feb 2, 2014 | The Barker Hangar

Tracy Williams, Ltd.  Booth D1
Barbara Bloom
Nicole Cherubini
Jennifer Nocon
Peter Stichbury

Peter Stichbury
   Xavier Gravas, 2012  
 Xavier Gravas is adrift in the contemporary, communication-saturated world. Consternation bows the perfect swoosh of his arching eyebrows. His full lips are set grimly together. He is an invented character that his creator, Auckland-based artist Peter Stichbury, calls a ‘Superfluous Man.’ Haunted by a sense of insignificance, Xavier peruses personal perfection to exquisite and troubling effect. (At Chelsea’s  Tracy Williams, Ltd. , through Dec 22nd). 
  Merrily Kerr   New York Art Tours

Xavier Gravas, 2012

Xavier Gravas is adrift in the contemporary, communication-saturated world. Consternation bows the perfect swoosh of his arching eyebrows. His full lips are set grimly together. He is an invented character that his creator, Auckland-based artist Peter Stichbury, calls a ‘Superfluous Man.’ Haunted by a sense of insignificance, Xavier peruses personal perfection to exquisite and troubling effect. (At Chelsea’s Tracy Williams, Ltd., through Dec 22nd).

Merrily Kerr
New York Art Tours

Peter Stichbury


Written by: John Yau

Peter Stichbury is a portrait painter whose work is unlike anyone else that I know of, and I am only stating the obvious. In “Skin-deep: Peter Stichbury and The Art of Appearances” (Art & Australia, September 2011), Justin Paton writes:

Hung alongside Zuckerberg’s fizzog were faces of nearly oppressive flawlessness. There was a chiseled Donald Draper type called ‘Roma’, a waif-model named ‘Bregje Heinen’ and a riveting youth called ‘Bernard M.’. They all have hair like sable, clear veinless eyes and skin that doesn’t sweat. As you might have guessed from those details, Stichbury is an awed admirer of the portraits of Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (“halfway through making a show his book always makes its way onto my table to mock me,” Stichbury told me recently, and he sets down his new characters with extraordinary patience and technical cunning.

However much Stichbury is an “awed admirer “ of Ingres, he does part company with him in substantial ways. In his essay “The Painter of Modern Life,” Charles Baudelaire’s complaint about Ingres seems to have been implicitly understood by Stichbury:

The great failing of M. Ingres, in particular, is that he seeks to impose upon every type of sitter a more or less complete, by which I mean a more or less despotic, form of perfection, borrowed from the repository of classical ideas.

For all of their “nearly oppressive flawlessness,” Stichbury’s paintings and drawings do not look back to “the repository of classical ideas,” but to a world replete with cosmetic surgery, Photoshop, Facebook, Twitter and reality television, just to name a few of the ways society exhibits new and improved faces. Along with Ingres, I would advance that Stichbury belongs to a group of linear portrait painters that includes Christian Schad, Tamara de Lempicka, and early Lucien Freud, particularly “Girl in Bed” (1952), which is of his then wife, Lady Caroline Blackwood, who was known for astonishingly large blue eyes.

* * *

In 2010, Stichbury had his first New York exhibition, which he titled The Proteus Effect, at Tracy Williams. The title signaled his interest in the phenomenon of creating a digital persona (or avatar) as a form of self-representation. Stichbury’s second exhibition at Tracy Williams is Superfluous Man (November 8–December 22, 2012). The term was popularized in Russia in the mid-19th century by Ivan Turgenev’s novel, The Diary of a Superfluous Man (1850). The “superfluous man” was born into wealth and privilege. Unwilling to work in the government, which was where one could make a name, he gambled, dueled, and arranged romantic trysts. He tended to be shallow, cynical and bored.

Whereas Elizabeth Peyton romanticizes various examples of the superfluous man, making it seem as if idleness is the only important goal in life, Stichbury’s aim is different. He isn’t celebrating pop icons, like Lindsay Lohan and Adriana Lima, by making them into eleven-foot paintings in soft-core porn poses, as Richard Phillips did in his recent exhibition at Gagosian. Although Stichbury is exploring some of the same territory as Peyton and Phillips, he isn’t following in Andy Warhol’s footsteps and trying to connect himself to celebrities, and that’s saying something.

* * *

There are seven paintings and four drawings in colored pencil on charcoal gray paper. The largest one, “Estelle & Helena” (2012) is 63 by 47 inches. It is a double portrait and the largest painting Stichbury has made to date. At the other end is “Augusta Vane” (2012), which is around 13 by 12 inches. The other five portraits — examples of the superfluous man — are all the same size, around 40 by 30 inches.

In his best paintings, Stichbury walks a fine line between the unblemished and the grotesque without showing his hand, either literally or metaphorically. We tend to associate flawlessness with beauty, but Stichbury’s smooth, perfectly modulated, tight surfaces are unsettling. His paintings don’t strike me as portraits of people but of people who want to look as smooth and flawless as dolls. In “Estelle & Helena,” Estelle’s head is a perfect oval; she looks like an egg with eyes that are just a little too far apart and a little too big. The carefully manicured eyebrows rise uniformly above the eyes, like the wings of seagull. The bridge of her nose drops down from where the eyebrows end, like a swimmer executing a perfect dive. Other than Estelle and Helena’s gray eyes and rose lips, Stichbury works with a palette that consists of different tones of ocher, brown, black and white. The fact that Estelle is posed with whom you assume to be her adolescent daughter adds a note of creepiness to the painting. After all, what legacy is Estelle passing on to Helena?

Here is the real difference between Stichbury and both Peyton and Phillips. While they all focus on surface appearances, only Stichbury evokes interiority and depth. By not picking a celebrity — someone we recognize — or a clichéd romantic type (wan and thin young men), and by focusing on people who haven’t been branded, Stichbury invites us to scrutinize these remote individuals who are uncomfortable in their perfect skin. Harold Child’s forehead looks too big, with the skin stretched a little tightly over the skull. Barnaby Pan has a few tiny moles that, against the flawless skin, become visual irritations. (Imagine how Mr. Pan must feel. And this is also what makes Stichbury’s work so extraordinary and riveting — one cannot guess at the turmoil seething behind these perfectly controlled faces, these calculated looks of introspection. Perhaps, as Gertrude Stein stated, “there is no there there.” Or perhaps it might be that they have succeeded in repressing every errant thought or desire, have succeeded into making themselves into perfect robots.

Baudelaire’s flaneur was at home everywhere in the world, including, presumably, the Internet. Stichbury’s “superfluous man” isn’t relaxed anywhere. He may be a young CEO or someone who inherited wealth, but you feel that his discomfort is synonymous with his existence. For all their individuality, these people know they are replaceable, that there is nothing special or inimitable about them.

* * *

The longer you look at Stichbury’s paintings, the weirder they become. It is almost as if the figures in them have become too perfect, too manicured, too controlled.

As viewers, we might have occasion to remember that this control is an illusion, that dissipation and entropy are unavoidable. Stichbury’s fascination with the world of self-representation in the age of digital media goes far beyond the surface — it is a meditation on the lengths to which we will go to avoid being human and aging, and how deeply human such attempts make us.

Peter Stichbury: Superfluous Man continues at Tracy Williams (521 West 23rd Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through December 22.

Peter Stichbury