“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” (Tennyson) Mar31


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“A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies.” (Tennyson)


The brown package dropped on the doormat with a satisfying thud. He’d been waiting for some time and had become irritable and testy with his beautiful wife. This didn’t bother her. It was a price she was willing to pay. And in turn, she had exactly what he wanted in a woman: high cheekbones and low morals. She was perfect in every way.

The package concealed a coffee table book; beautifully bound in Milan. He was at the top of his game, at least commercially: his work sought out by collectors and galleries across the world. The public loved him for his lifestyle as much as his output. You could say he‘d lived a little, if not a lot.

His agent had commissioned a hot, young writer to fabricate a legend for the foreword to the book. According to this story, he’d led a loose, unfettered existence, driven by an uncontrollable desire to live life as if every day was his last. The public wanted a new Pollock: someone with unrestrained energy, vim and vigour, someone who could rock the boat but wasn’t afraid of falling over board.

His biographer claimed that ‘he couldn’t even remember his first name. Everyone just called him Stone from a very young age.’ In fact, he was Jacob, son of Imre and Edith Stein. His parents anglicised their name on arrival from Berlin just before the war. He was brought up in a nice middle class road in Golders Green. Edith always insisted that they lived in Hampstead Garden Suburb.

‘He always balanced his canvases on two squat rocks as he was Stone – tough and resolute, and his work should be audacious and never timid.’ Jacob kept a pebble in his pocket. He’d picked it up on Brighton Beach, aged nine. It reminded him of the sea. When he first saw the grey-green shifting mass of frothy salty water, he was so moved he burst into tears. Imre thought he was scared and took him straight back home. He howled even more.

‘He hung out with the Stones in the South of France in the early 70s. Keith called him Stone the sixth Stone. You can hear him playing bongos on Exile on Main Street.’ Jacob was nervous. The air was thick and toxic with smoke. Keith took one look at him, winked then crashed. Stein decided to leave, made a neat 180-degree turn, and timidly tapped a bongo as he sloped out through a side door.

‘He met his wife, Gem, an up and coming model, at the launch party for Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium.’  She was serving the canapés.

In truth, these were half-truths, designed to make him appealing to a public more interested in notoriety and celebrity, than art and the human condition.

The critics were not so convinced. He had style and technique, but lacked mystery. There was no pain on the canvas, no hidden depth. It was all surface, they said, beautiful to behold, yes, but ultimately empty and unsatisfying: a perfect mirror to contemporary life, which explained why he was so popular.

Yet despite his success, there was a darkness lurking at the heart of his soul. It would grow to a point where he would recognise it and even embrace it. This wasn’t what Gem wanted. So she left him for a pony-tailed porn producer called Peter. Jacob remained single, and in his later years created a series of monotone work of great and terrible beauty.

And long after his colourful life story was forgotten, it was this work that would live on in the collective memory. Stone became a byword for a no-frills aesthetic, which absolutely nailed what it was like to live in the early 21st century. A period defined by instant digital thrills and a celebration of the moment; yet tempered by deep anxiety and long-term uncertainty.

Writer: Andy Hayes
Artists: Matt Baxter & Dom Bailey