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    Mechanics Behind the Art of Tom Stanley | Fri. Jul. 7, 2017

    Tom Stanley is an artist and recently retired Professor of Fine Arts from Winthrop University, but most do not know about his earlier careers. In high school, Stanley thought he would become an engineer like his father and even took a mechanical drawing class. Stanley learned how to use triangles, straight lines, and perfect angles to create detailed blueprints. These skills are carried out through his artwork today. During his Artist Talk on June 17th, Stanley told a story about how he would stay up late into the night working at his drawing table, which he strung with holiday lights so not to wake his family. Another memory that stood out to him was drawing triangles into the lining of a jacket that his brother had given him.

    After receiving his undergraduate degree from Sacred Heart College, an interest in working with fabric resurfaced. In 1972, Stanley received a B.A in art and started making wallets for Bloomingdales. Everything he made at the wallet factory was based on common line, symmetry, and precise measurements; to this day, Stanley draws back on those earlier techniques of line. While Stanley’s forms are meticulous, there is an awareness of improvisation that occurs. Stanley’s use of sgraffito requires him to make spontaneous decisions as the acrylic paint rapidly dries. Although Stanley stated that “life is accidental and so is my art,” he does try to minimize errors by placing limitations for each of his series.

    In his series, Untitled Drawings (2012-2013), Tom Stanley restricted himself by using a confined color palette of black and white, uniforming each piece to an identical 47×47 inch square, and requiring that no marks touch the edge. These limitations free him from nominal decisions later, and allow his mind and hands to wander along the blank canvas. The impromptu nature of Stanley’s paintings draws from Abstract Expressionism ideology of allowing the subconscious to make instinctive motions, however the geometric forms harden and ground his canvases to reality. The 2012 series is highly textured due to the sgraffito technique and gives the series a mysterious and chaotic base as the quick mark making is distinctly apparent. The bright white lines float effortlessly in the middle of each canvas and provide a claim to the disarray of scratches, which appear almost animalistic. The abstract nature of the painting allows the carousel of lines to be drifting anywhere in space, but the identifiable shapes of flags, arrows, ladders, and wheels prompt a sense of familiarity.

    Tom Stanley. Untitled Drawings, 2012.

    In the 2013 series of Untitled Drawings, Tom Stanley strips away the scratches that had previously given depth to his work. The paintings in 2013 involve larger line making that stretches out to the edge of the canvas. These forms are more geometric and appear almost digitally printed due to the precision and crispness of the stark white lines. While the 2012 series evokes a feeling of floating, the 2013 is more grounded due to the increased use of triangles and angles. The shapes form illusions of ladders and mountains that cause the eye to climb the canvas.

    Tom Stanley. Untitled Drawings, 2013.

    Tom Stanley is very aware of his use of space not only on the canvas, but in how his paintings hang on a wall, which goes back to his industrial background. The series Untitled Drawings are molded within a nook towards the back of the Halsey, where each piece works together to tell a story. The exhibition will only be on display for a few more days. It is something you do not want to miss!

    -Written by Kat Eader, Halsey Intern


    Tom Stanley: Contemporary Art for the Dialogic Museum | Mon. Jul. 3, 2017

    Tom Stanley’s paintings in Scratching the Surface, his solo exhibition at the Halsey Institute, carefully balance easily recognizable forms such as houses and boats with subtle references to art history by utilizing painting techniques that range from sgraffito of the ancient Greeks to drip painting methods found in abstract expressionism. By doing so, he creates contemporary art that is perfectly suited for the revitalized dialogic museum—a space defined by education through conversation and connections. Answers are neither right or wrong, but instead, visitors are encouraged to engage with the space and the art.

    The dialogic museum is characterized by its mission to connect with visitors and inevitably to connect visitors to the art. In addition to careful curation and research of contemporary art, it focuses on educational programming for children and adults alike, hosting events such as artist talks, gallery walkthroughs, and more tactile events for the younger visitors. For example, during Scratching the Surface, the Halsey Institute hosted an event at the Charleston Farmers Market to teach kids how to utilize sgraffito—a technique Stanley uses frequently in his oeuvre where he scratches the top layer of paint to reveal another layer. Doing so provided a tangible way for participants to connect to Stanley’s painting techniques that harken back to the Italian Renaissance, and before that classic Greek pottery.

    Orpheus among Thracians. Greek, 450-420 B.C.

    In some regards the dialogic museum is the “reinvented museum” and is in opposition to the traditional museum, which perpetuates the disconnect between the art and the museum’s visitors. A certain expectation remains for those who enter a traditional museum. They should be quiet, they should be educated, and for the most part, they view the art on display in an objective manner. It is important to note here that neither form of museum is “incorrect,” there is simply a dichotomy that is worth noting when exploring the function of an exhibition space.

    In theory, either form of museum could support any variety or medium of art, but I believe that Tom Stanley’s work is a prime example of a body of work that is perfectly suited to be exhibited in a dialogic museum such as the Halsey. For example, his series Houses (2017) appeals to a wide array of museum visitors. When a child views the series, the color palette and the whimsical nature of the houses is visually appealing. The subject is directly referential to something that a child is familiar with, and often may recreate themselves: a two dimensional house, seen from the front. This accessible point of reference easily starts a conversation about the works. What does Stanley do differently in his works than the child does in theirs? How might seeing the exhibition change the way they view their own house, or change how they perceive their own drawings? And, my personal favorite question that I have heard some visitors asking their children: “What do you see?”

    Tom Stanley. Houses, 2017.

    On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are visitors that enter with prior knowledge of art history, and may have preconceived expectations of how a certain exhibition will explore the craft, or even how it might be referential to other aspects of art history. On surface level, they will be met with the same initial reaction as the younger visitors might be—perhaps a whimsical interpretation of a neighborhood. Upon further investigation, they will find a number of references to different time periods in painting across art history, as Stanley includes sgraffito (prevalent in classical Greek pottery and later in frescoes of the Italian Renaissance), Abstract Expressionist drip painting (Jackson Pollock, Janet Sobel), and line work that is reminiscent of the European surrealists (Rene Magritte, Max Ernst). Beyond that, certain shapes in his work are made by tracing around tools that could be found in a painter’s studio, leaving silhouettes that may only be recognizable to fellow visual artists. All the while, he maintains his own visual language, abundantly interesting, and always reflective of his life experiences.

    Joan Miró. The Tilled Field, 1923-24.

    As museums change and update how they function, the visitor’s relationship and experience with the art will be affected as well. The reinvented museum encourages visitors to engage with art visually and dialogically. Tom Stanley’s work is a prototypical example of how visual art can support these changes in the function of museums. His synthesis between accessible forms and vast knowledge of both his craft and art history in general provides a captivating exhibition that makes it easy for Halsey visitors to begin artistic conversations and to make valuable connections that heighten the museum experience.

    -by Phillip Greene, Halsey Intern

    What do you see in Tom Stanley’s 12-Panel Drawing? | Thu. Jun. 29, 2017

    The closer you get to Tom Stanley’s 12-Panel Drawing, the more you see.  From 12 feet away, you may glaze over and miss something.  From two feet away, this piece invites to you play a game of I-SPY as your eyes fluidly bounce from each panel to the next.  From 12 feet away, triangles line the panels.  From two feet away, these triangles become a variety of mountains; some drawn freehand, some using a straightedge, some stamped with a set square, and some scratched with sgraffito- a Tom Stanley signature.  I like to think the mountains are filled with memories of the Appalachians less than two hours away from Stanley’s hometown of Concord, North Carolina.  From 12 feet away, perfect white circles dot the panels.  From two feet away, those white circles become sgraffito moons above sets of mountains.  From 12 feet away, the background is black.  From two feet away, the background becomes expressive scratching that provides a stark contrast to the splashes of pink made with drafting tools- clean and precise. 

    At the Artist Talk and Gallery Walk Through on June 20th, Stanley described limitations in his process as “provid[ing] a lot of freedom, to be honest. I use what I know and my mind goes from there.”  Stanley defies the size limitations the 12 individual canvases provide by working in a series- “responding to previous actions on the next canvas and so on.”  Beyond the size of the canvas, Stanley limits himself by choosing a specific color palette (pink, black and white in 12-Panel Drawing) and explores manipulating color; white can become a light blue/grey on Stanley’s canvases.  Stanley also gives himself a time constraint in using sgraffito.  In this time constraint, Stanley doesn’t overthink.

    In finding freedom within limitations, I am reminded of jazz- of which Stanley seems inspired by. After all, his Sumter Series are individually titled Blue Rondo a la Turk and Three to Get Ready after Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out” album and, at the aforementioned discussion, Stanley said “the first examples of contemporary art [he] was exposed to growing up in Concord, NC were the covers of vinyl jazz albums.” Stanley’s use of abstract lines and circles are reminiscent of S. Neil Fujita’s album art of “Mingus Ah Um” and “Time Out.” But, to me, Stanley’s process mimics jazz itself. In jazz, structure comes from the chords and melody while freedom comes from improvising over those limitations. Similarly, Stanley makes his art by finding freedom within constraint.

    Come play I-SPY with Tom Stanley’s Scratching the Surface at the Halsey Institute until July 8th.

    -by Caroline Tweedy, Halsey Intern





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