We have a whole new collection of paintings by Sarah J. Stanley, a Glasgow-based artist whose work explores themes of religious dogma and subservience. Blocks, bricks, grids, ladders, and stairs are commonplace in Stanley's painterly lexicon. They form boundaries, pathways and even cages, evoking ideas of confinement and coercion- a feeling known only too well by Stanley. She grew up in a family of Christian fundamentalists. Extreme and cult-like, with no time for anything but Church and bible studies, her childhood was void of play and deviance.
With that behind her, Stanley continues to navigate the many obstacles she faced as a child and young woman, challenging the religious rhetoric and ridiculing its non-questioning believers. With words such as "I want my tithes back" scrolled across (what looks like) a church altar, or "What's up here? I dunno, let's climb it and find out" written beside a blood-red ladder, Stanley delivers her message by way of dark hyperbolic humour.
Amongst her many lines of influence is the late Zebedee B. Armstrong, an American Outsider artist who was known for his doomsday calendars. There are undoubted parallels between Armstrong and Stanley’s work - one being, their shared use of grids. In 2018, Stanley painted 6000 paintings, a series of grids all containing numbers that incrementally counted down from 6000 to 0. Challenging the Christian belief that the world was created only 6000 years ago, Stanley goes onto say, “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.”
Unlike Stanley, Zebedee B. Armstrong was a devout Christian until his death. He claimed to have been visited by an angel in 1972 who warned him that, “Our time has gone to waste...Judgement Day will come and at what hour only God knows.” From that point on, creating almost 1,500 doomsday calendars, Zebedee was obsessed with predicting the exact date of when the world would end.
Similar to Stanley, Zebedee used grids and repetition to measure and record time. But rather than asserting Christian beliefs, Stanley uses the same technique to contradict it. In addition to grids, other symbols are employed again and again by Stanley with an almost ritualistic quality. “We are pattern seeking creatures” she explains, referring to her work but more so referring to society's predisposition to religion in general. By using mundane objects like brick walls and ladders to deliver her message, Stanley’s undermining of the church seems even more sacrilegious. Not only does she debunk the divine and the almighty, she scorns the very belief system that underpins it. Personal and esoteric, her paintings are psychological meanderings that deconstruct and dismantle the religious doctrines that were forced on Stanley from a young age. Whether it's therapy, an act of subversion or both, Stanley's paintings are intimate accounts that unlock universal and omnipresent themes of conformity and compliance to which we can all (in one way or another) relate.
View Sarah J. Stanley paintings here.