Born and raised in South Africa, Paul Stopforth makes paintings that focus on fragments of history and memory. Central to Paul’s first solo exhibition at Clark Gallery are Tidal Pool Bethesda I and Tidal Pool Bethesda III. Each painting measuring 18” x 80”, reference Stopforth’s continued appropriation of Robben Island as source and subject. Found off the west coast of Cape Town, South Africa, for over a century it happened to be an ideal place to send the mentally disturbed, chronically poor, and incurably sick. The island also has the dark distinction of being the location where Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison. However, more specifically, Bethesda, refers to the Bath of Bethesda, where the custodians of Robben Island warehoused those afflicted with leprosy at the far end of the island. Perhaps, the seawater provided a powerful cathartic curative for those afflicted with the disease. The remains of the pool are still visible today, and the stagnant, black water that lies within the eroding retaining walls is an evocative echo of another era. Set in thickly applied luxuriant layers of squeegeed (Richter-esque) gouache, Stopforth beautifully presents the angular formation of the bath’s crumbling stonewalls jutting zigzagged through its reflective pool. In Stopforth’s hands, the bath is transformed into a reservoir of intense aging splendor coupled with a powerful psychological warfare. Closer to home, Paul has found Provincetown’s breakwater, at the tip of Cape Cod, a subject for inspiration and investigation.
Stopforth began his artistic career at the height of Apartheid and chose to confront the political issues of his country head on. Just two years before Nelson Mandela was released from prison, Paul and his wife emigrated to the United States in 1988. Stopforth studied at the Johannesburg School of Art and was awarded British Council Scholarship to attend the Royal College of Art in London. Over the course of his career, he has held numerous one-person exhibitions both in South Africa and in the United States. He has been represented in group shows in this country and in Europe, and has been the recipient of numerous awards and residencies. Stopforth taught in the Visual and Environmental Studies Department at Harvard for ten years and is currently a visiting faculty member at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.