NEW LONDON — “Animals in fables are kind of a bridge to humans. Symbolically, the animals take on human characteristics, that’s what I was trying to get at,” said painter Brian Keith Stephens, whose show, “Almost True Tales” at the Lyman Allyn Museum incorporates animals in mythology, folklore and culture.
Cheetahs, elephants, lions, wolves, buffalo, deer, foxes, sheep, hares, whales, flamingoes, swans, tortoises, frogs, and many more — Stephens, 47, is known for his large-scale paintings of creatures in nature.
In this show of about 18 works, he ties his fascination with the wild kingdom to fables that he said provide potential connections for children and adults to experience the work.
“I like the playfulness,” he said. “A three year old might know the stories or might be excited about the animals. It’s good for a three-year-old or a 93-year-old.”
Each painting is accompanied by text that connects the piece to a folk tale or fable.
“[The text] gives a dialogue so that if you came with your child or an adult, it’s a way to start getting into the painting because that’s not easy for everyone,” he said. “The stories are not always specific, the idea is more to spark the beginning of a thought for you.”
In some of these works, he plays with patterns drawn from Polish, German and Scandinavian folk designs, as well Hermes scarves and the rug in his studio.
A native of Connecticut, Stephens graduated from Lyme Academy of Fine Art and earned a Masters in Fine Art in Painting from the City College of New York. Since 2000, he has exhibited in the United States, Germany, France, Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Bulgaria.
Stephens said he continues to paint animals because of their multiple levels of meaning in cultures worldwide and their fragility in the face of current environmental changes.
“I like them because they’re like such magic. I like them too because of the storytelling and they’re so frail now in our time. The humans are destroying so much — I find it kind of important to pay homage to the animals,” he said.
The exhibition will be on view through May 9. Go to www.lymanallyn.org for more information.
Photo credits: Pola Esther shoots artist Brian Keith Stephens as he walks through an exhibition of his work at the Lyman Allyn. Copyright Pola Esther, 2021