Neoteric Art: You have been painting for over forty years. Discuss how your painting has changed and evolved over the years.
Robert Stanely: For the first five years or so, I made art blindly. I took what I’d learned in school and “developed” it. Then, finally, I made a painting, a real painting. A living moment, paint, color, and composition—all came together. The moment was a sudden head turn to catch a person walking in the hall. But, the hall outside my door was empty. That idea, of someone being and then being gone, of perception, of doorways to new experience–that doorway became my touchstone, even as it later evolved into boundaries, and then into objects of ordered chaos.
All my work is probing what I perceive and how I feel, about never being able to step into the same river twice. Chaos/order and randomness/meaning fascinate me; they seem to be at the root of living.
NA: Why do you paint?
RS: I just happened to, a fortunate accident that has become a wonderful existence.
NA: What is your painting philosophy?
RS: Make work that is True and Beautiful, about the world and perceiving it. I am not interested, however, in something just pretty or lovely.
NA: Discuss your work/thought process when starting a new piece.
RS: From my sketches or photos, I pull out several things that interest me, most often not knowing why. I put them on the canvas, computer screen, or floor, and start changing them, asking “how does this stuff go together?” A focus eventually emerges. All the stuff, content, color, space, composition—whether painting, computer, or installation—has to “work.”
NA: Discuss your book “Edge Vistas”.
RS: I do not know precisely how I got the idea. Perhaps it was from reading a friend’s memoir. However, I thought it might be interesting to see how an artist (me) changed over the course of forty years. You know, callow youth to mature genius. By laying out a sequence of poems and art, I knew I would be able to answer your first question in this interview. (Okay, I’m kidding about that.) Actually, I just thought it would reveal something. It did, and I enjoyed the backward look. It’s helped me to continue to move in new directions.
Making the book itself was similar to painting. Good idea, gets off track, is pulled back, seems great, seems stupid, POW, it works!
An absolutely great benefit has been the discussions I’ve had with people for whom the book sparked something. Many pages, as I hoped, seem to be starting places for the reader to travel into the personal unknown. When they get back, we talk, and great new ideas pop up.
NA: What’s the last good exhibition you saw?
RS: While still in the “sponge” stage as a young man, I’d see the key openings in my city (at various times Cincinnati, New York, Harrisburg, Chicago). Now, I look at art mags like ARTnews, check out several online sources, among them ArtDaily, ARTINFO, and Art Review, and look at what friends suggest. I find about 10% of what I look at shows something probing and well-made. The last good exhibition I saw was the re-hanging of the collection of Contemporary Art after 1960 in the Piano wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
NA: What advice would you give to a younger artist?
RS: The ways to success, however you’ve defined it for yourself, are many. Work at them, until it clicks. Also, realize that hard work is the only thing you can control. The other two things you will need to succeed, talent and good fortune (the right people at the right time, being in sync with the time or a gallerist, etc.), are out of your control. Enjoy the high state of creation, and work much harder than you thought you’d have to get your stuff out into the world. If the good luck you need to be seen by the right people doesn’t happen despite your hard work, so what, right?! You had and continue to have some damn enjoyable moments, creating.
NA: Any thoughts on the politics of the current art world?
RS: It’s in a rut. The current power brokers have a deep and unfounded suspicion of visual judgment and objective criteria. The same 14 curators, 20 gallerists, and 7 critics make the same decisions over and over, having formed a jargon-laced, priesthood. They make decisions based on what each other thinks is good; and no one can criticize them because they have no objective standards such as color, form, or relevance to the human condition.
NA: Name a few of your favorite painters.
RS: Jasper Johns, Julie Mehretu, Athos Zacharias, Richard Diebenkorn, Kathryn Arnold, Franz Kline.