A tête à tête with Sarah J. Stanley

Posted by Kim Soep on

Just in time for Women's International Day, we interview, Sarah J. Stanley, the painter from Glasgow, about her new series of artworks, entitled '6000 to 0'. She talks about how her strict Christian cult upbringing is the stimulus to her nonconformist art and how outsider artists, Z B Armstrong and Howard Finster have heavily influenced her love of grids and text. 

Sarah J. Stanley studied at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen. Since graduating, she has relocated to Glasgow where she works from her studio-cum-coffee shop, called Stan's. Aside from exhibiting her art internationally, Sarah travels the world as a musician. The interview goes a bit like this (also for readers with a sensitive disposition, please be advised that Sarah swears alot!)....

Kim: You are from Aberdeen, am I right? And you studied at Gray's. So what brought you to Glasgow and why did you stay? 

Sarah: Yes, my family moved from Glasgow to Aberdeen for work when I was 5, so although my Glaswegian twang was always a point of note growing up in the North East, I’ve a healthy grasp of the doric as well! The major reason to move to Glasgow was to come to a bigger and more vibrant city. Much as I love a lot about the geography of Aberdeen and especially the surrounding countryside, if I’m blunt, it’s a city of transient rich oil workers predominantly. Investment in culture is poor, and the high rent pushes creatives out of the city. It’s a place to endure, not thrive and I couldn’t be more grateful for getting away from it. In Glasgow there is community, progression and a real solidarity within creative communities, putting aside all the usual problems. I’ve always loved Glasgow and that’s why I stay. It’s just such a great city.

Kim: I am a big fan of your cafe/studio Stan's! How did it come about?

Sarah: Stan’s is just a side tool to make some immediate money to pay for my studio property and overheads. Having worked in the arts previously in curation and owning a gallery, I find that making a coffee or what not, is so much easier and reserves my mental energy for the studio. It works for me personally because I’ve tried out many things, but if anyone thinks it’s a model to be copied, I’d probably warn against it. I’d say now, after 5 years, ‘customers’ is a strong word. It’s more like friends I’ve grown to know and people who feel sorry for the weird girl who can’t seem to remember anything for shit, that come in and buy coffee. For me my absolute and utter priority in business and life is to hang out with as few cunts or wankers as possible, so I tend to alienate those types and befriend the ones I like. It’s more of a weird queer community-centre of other jaded and disgustingly humoured individuals.


Kim: On the subject of your clientele, your work involves a lot of social commentary. Do your customers at Stan's provide you with inspiration?

Sarah: My customers are an inspiration in as much as any other people are. I do have my deepest conversations there, and I’ve made friends, so it’s good in that regard. If you mean do they inspire my work?-na haha! That’s the studio, and there is a divide. So, it’s great. It keeps me disciplined with my studio hours too; something I think is really important for fine artists. 

Kim: You are a not only a visual artist but a songwriter. You use a lot of text in your art and I wonder if your art and songwriting have a symbiotic relationship? 

Sarah: This old chestnut! I’ve always erred on the stubborn side about this type of thing but that’s because people say things like ‘oh art and music they’re just the same aren’t they’ and no they are not, they are two completely different disciplines. At no point has picking up a paint brush taught me anything about music. However, the way this question is worded is better-and actually there are many ways where these things inspire each other. More so the older I get in fact. It’s not in the text though.......

When I paint text it’s about the love of the shape of the letters, and I just need to find a big enough excuse to indulge in that practice; something I just can’t seem to get away from. Songwriting is a different angle altogether. Music has a sort of linear journey; totally different to the 2 dimensional space of painting, so it takes a different journey. The way I think about painting can feel similar in my brain to the way I think about creating music, especially in production, but they are different mediums, and each has to be respected as such. I have a pet hate for artists who think they can do music, because they have base level artistic talent. If I hear another feedback loop called ‘art’ I’m gonna kill someone or myself. Musicians who think they can ‘do an art’ because they have base level creative intuition are just as bad. What I’m saying here, sounding like an old jaded arsehole, is don’t foolishly try and transfer integrity from one discipline to another because you detract from both, and music and art have different concerns. To avoid mediocrity (and by no means am I saying that I know what I’m doing yet) I keep these disciplines compartmentalised.

Kim: Tell me more about your series of 6000 paintings? 

Sarah: I guess this piece is maybe my most prolonged run up to a pretty basic punchline. However, if you follow my work, and the relentless perversion of the fundamentalist christian upbringing I had, you can see it’s not as cheap a gag as it first might seem. Mainly, I was paintings numbers in grid boxes and loved doing it, so I thought of something fucked up about numbers - namely, that (many)christians believe the world is 6000 years old - and then I painted from 6000 to 0. It took about 6 months and I did it in small panels so I could paint it in increments and transport it, and rearrange it easily. The irrationality and blasé rejection of science in religion astounds me and this kind of work is both cathartic and wholesomely blasphemous; something I’ve committed my life to do-fuck with the rhetoric of christianity, and question it’s exemption from critique.

Kim: Is this an ongoing series? If not what are you working on right now? 

Sarah: I’m not going to be painting 6000 to 12000 or anything any time soon if that’s what you mean, but I do have other paintings in the studio unfinished with these grid like numbers on. I just keep on painting something I like until I’m not in love with it anymore, so body’s of work will cross over, but at the end of the day, it’s about paint, and paint goes where it wants and needs. I love the work of a lot of outsider artists like Z B Armstrong and Howard Finster, often questioning it, because of my fucked-up-cult-like-upbringing, maybe I’m an outsider artist of sorts. Imagery of hell and doomsday and all the psychological meanderings, where that takes your brain in your formative years, leaves me wondering if I’ll ever really be able to detach these themes from my work. I don’t think I will, or will want to. The horrors of the bible and modern Christianity have given me enough dark shit to work with for now. 

I’m working on a few things just now:

A series of paintings called ‘places I want to make out with you’ - paintings involving text and imagery of fictional locations for sexual adventure

‘Sex and crisps’ is a series I’ve just finished and it basically says sex and crisps lots, and follows from the 6000 paintings in that I’m still in kind of grid mode. Who doesn’t like sex? Who doesn’t like crisps? Important content - prove me wrong.

I’m making a series of paintings of arcade machines, predominantly parts from coin pusher machines (the only thing on my bucket list-to own one) 

Cutting Fruit by Sarah J. Stanley   

I’m also hoping to make a series of portraits of people I know's hands at work. There’s so much to the way people use their hands that I think goes unnoticed. I love to paint them.



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