Looked at your new work again today Ian. Magnificent work. I am so proud of you. Stupid thing to say and feel, but it is true. I love the way each piece you make is fresh and new and has an identity all its own. So rare. So difficult. Makes me think of Richard Tuttle. Or better, Thomas Jefferson! Inventor. Yes! Thomas Jefferson! The serpentine wall.
Plus! I want one!!!! Always telling. But each one is a revelation, like you start from scratch, all over again, tabula rasa, Sisyphus, shape shifting nesting inside of shape shifting! Shape shifting squared! Brilliant! You go back to the drawing board. Break it down. Start over. Fresh eyes. Rethink. It isn't furniture, it isn't sculpture, it isn't anything but instead everything. You look in a new direction. Take out the trash. Turn life on its ear. Ask what if? And you mean it!!!
Minimalist persona. Donald Judd. Tony Smith. Ronald Bladen. Agnes Martin. Leon Polk Smith. Even the enigmatic Richard Tuttle. They made art that could "fly." But you are different. Big picture persona with amazing details. Secrets inside of secrets. Unfolding Chinese box intricacy with a Cracker Jack surprise! And then another! You make art that can fly, but actually fly. Actually really fly! Wow!
Richard Tuttle, Thomas Jefferson and then, yes, Leonardo da Vinci! And Ian Stell! Wow! Nice friends you have!
I asked Heather for your email. We just happened to reestablish contact in the past few months, and yesterday she told me that you were not well. I’m really sorry to hear this, and I’m also sorry that I’ve waited all of this time to reach out to you. I’ve never told you how important were in my young life, how much I admired you and your work, and how much of a role you played in my becoming an artist. Yesterday I wrote the following little reminiscence to Heather, about that year when our paths crossed:
1983, John Hughes meets Charles Dickens. It straddled my sophomore and junior years, and contained both the pinnacle and the nadir of my adolescence. Over that winter and into the spring, I began to emerge both socially and creatively, in many ways for the first time in my life. I clearly remember coming into my own, and distancing myself from a lot of the stifling energy of my family. Addison was a powerful mentor figure, and his encouragement helped make me feel stronger than I’d ever felt before. However as fate would have it, this blossoming was cut short. Over spring break, my parents announced they were getting divorced, thrusting all of their turmoil back into the narrative. The dreamlike Déjeuner sur l’herbe/painting outings with Addison and you ended, and I went back to NYC, into the stew of familial mess. Soon after returning to Putney in the fall, Two of my closest friends — Lakshman and Geoff — were expelled for throwing a keg party (I was equally guilty, but somehow miraculously didn’t get caught), and within a month or two, Geoff killed himself.
It was an intense year, and I remember it vividly. It exactly wasn’t rational, but I felt pretty abandoned that fall. My grades plummeted. What at first was an awakening, felt like a false start, by the time the leaves began to turn. Addison Reached out once or twice, but I never responded. I think my shell closed back up, and it wouldn’t begin to open again until long after I left Putney.
No, I didn’t stick to painting, although I tried! I had some facility, which was greatly encouraged first by you and then by others through my undergrad years at art school. It’s been a circuitous path, but I’m grateful to have found a creative practice that fits. (If you’re curious, you can find some of what I do on my website).
I hope that this isn’t too awkward to receive after so many years. I just feel the need to tell you how much you touched my life — that I still hear your encouragement in my mind and heart.