The weird creatures of Edward John Stevens Jr.

Seventy years ago, painter Edward John Stevens Jr.’s opalescent, mystical narratives caught the attention of critics, collectors, and curators. He sold hundreds of works. In 1950, the year he turned 27, he peered solemnly out from behind a canvas on the cover of Life magazine for a story about young American artists.

What happened to him? One of the many figurative artists who lost purchase when Abstract Expressionism swept the art world, Stevens never regained his ground. He died in 1988.

“Edward John Stevens Jr.: The 1940s,” now up at Beth Urdang Gallery, dusts off a long-buried treasure. The artist, an avid traveler and student of indigenous and ancient art, made works on paper in gouache and watercolor that read as part travelogue, part parade of animalistic deities and demons. The first occasionally skid toward sentimentality, but his creatures — painted with tiny, stitch-like strokes and exuberant patterning — are thrillingly weird.

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