Born in 1962 in the Mexican border town of Yuma, Arizona, USA, Gary Stephens studied painting and drawing at the University of Arizona and the San Francisco Art Institute. For the past 30 years, he has worked as an artist and travelled extensively in Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa for inspiration. In 1998, he moved to Florence, Italy, where he lived and worked for 10 years refining his drawing style. In 2009, he did a year-long residency at Greatmore Studios in Cape Town. Since 2008, Stephens has been living and working in South Africa. Most notably, he worked on a series of monumental portraits of his artist friends and their African sense of style and dress. Stephens combines his interests in optical effects, stripes, and fractured images with his love of pattern and mark-making and uses the portrait and cityscape to explore both his visual interests and to engage with the beauty of the African continent. Stephens’ work is in public and private collections in the USA, Europe and the Middle East.


A collection of Gary Stephens painting from Tswalu


Monumental in scale, Gary Stephens’ portraits pay homage to the African traditions of hair-braiding, hats, headscarves and contemporary urban style. These drawings capture a view from behind and focus on the iconic power of a subject’s hair or hat instead of their specific facial features. Stephens portrays women in headscarves or men wearing caps to focus attention on the power of these everyday symbols of African life. He documents the sense of style and attention his subjects put into their appearance in a contemporary African setting. From a visual perspective, he is constantly drawn to patterns and visual rhythms, such as geometric repetitions, textile patterns, or botanical shapes. He is attracted to non-verbal, hypnotic visual experiences and chooses his subjects for their stripes and textures. He creates patterns underneath the images that emerge and energise the whole.



Information and images courtesy of Everard Read Johannesburg.