Tenderness and the visual trappings of our social indicators of power are combined in Jansson Stegner’s oil paintings of police officers. In these portraits, the artist veers away from the familiar depictions of cops as big burly strikebreakers or sadists in mirrored sunglasses. Instead, they are primarily women of arresting beauty, whose quiet and contemplative nature challenges the idea that authority must assert itself in violent and oppressive ways.
With languid bodies bent into sculptural forms and limbs portrayed with Mannerist exaggeration, Stegner depicts a physical and emotional awkwardness in his subjects that draws the viewer into their psychological space. Similarly, the minimal surroundings in which the figures are placed—whether natural or darkened voids—provide a framework for concentrating attention on his subjects’ introspection. These stark settings and concentration on the emotional and mental state of the central figure draw from Stegner’s interest in Spanish painters such as El Greco, Zurbarán, and Goya as well as the expressive portraits of Otto Dix and Christian Schad. Stegner’s cops have been displaced from the urban environment and relocated into private, contemplative worlds that are pastoral, monastic and removed.