Tom Stanley: Discovering What’s Next
By Wim Roefs
Tom Stanley’s habitual recycling of imagery has given his rather wide-ranging body of work of the past two decades considerable consistency, making the paintings easily identifiable. Stanley (b. 1950) builds on visual elements of previous work to create new free-floating narratives. In the seven paintings in the current exhibition, the Rock Hill, S.C., artist is taking this process a step further. While he’s not exactly taking inventory of his visual language so far, the Winthrop University art department chair is presenting somewhat of a glossary.
“In the past I have done bodies of work that I think are about my grandfather who I never met, or about New Orleans and floating on the river, or listening to Rahsaan Roland Kirk or Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond, or about my mother's boarding house on Brumley Street in Concord, N.C., or traveling en route to Hamlet - an imaginary place of improvisation and creativity. Here I am just painting. If those elements of memory enter the narrative of my hand and mind, fine, but if so, it is not totally a conscious decision.”
“It is deliberate only to the extent that these images, or related images, are what I know. I do try to approach them in new ways so they have the opportunity to say something new on the surface of the canvas.” But what are the paintings about? “Lord have mercy. It is about discovering what is next.”
The work is about Stanley doing the work, he says, and his personal history is reflected on the canvas. “It’s magical to the extent that I can work. Working is magical.”
As in much of Stanley’s work, the human presence is in his hard-edge or shaky shapes and objects rather than through the actual presence of human forms. The latter were prominent in his earlier work as well as in his more recent Big Lots series, but they are absent in many of his paintings, which often rely on mechanical drawing. “I was a mechanical drawing nerd,” he says of his youth, working in his dad’s machine shop, filing blueprints. “I also think that I am producing images that are man-made, or human-made.” His interest in Edmund Lewandowski, a Precisionist painter and former Winthrop art department head, has to do with Lewandowski’s interest in the humanity of making things.
“If anything, I continue to file blueprints, but I am old enough now to not rely on the myth that I had created in my free-floating narratives of memory and the past. I am trying to rely on my ability to work. Time is a very precious commodity. When I can work, I am also paying homage to time, to that time, to my time. It is about being here now. It is about what I have, the images or glossary, to make my paintings.”