Soaring views of hills and sky dominate every room of Sally Stanton’s home and studio. The house reflects the love of color, pattern, and texture that is evident in her work which fills many walls, along with children’s drawings and items of interest.
NT: Your use of color and pattern really invites me into your pieces. Have you always used these two elements in your paintings? Do you use fluorescent or neon colors?
SS: It’s actually called “luminous paint.” Color is very important to me, although I have also worked a lot in black and white. These (gestures at black-and-white pieces on the wall) are eraser drawings. I cover the panel with graphite and erase into it and kind of get the same intuitive figures that the color ones have. I don’t sketch anything. Then at the end, I often go in with a little white acrylic and black ink and punch it up. But mostly, it’s erasure. It’s always fun to see what happens. It’s kind of an adventure.
Actually, for years I did work that was non-representational, totally abstract. When I was raising my son, I was trying to do too much. I was writing, trying to illustrate children’s books, working, parenting, painting . . . I needed to focus. I love to write. I went back for an MFA in creative writing and for ten years I didn’t paint. I worked on writing.
When I started painting again, these people started to pop up. At first, I didn’t know what to do with them; I tried to suppress it. But eventually, I decided I’m just going to go for it, dive in, see what happens.
NT: I find that they evoke stories. Do you have a narrative in mind for each? Are there multiple stories, dreams, memories happening?
SS: I use the word “narrative” when describing them, but I don’t start with a story. It’s totally intuitive. At the end, I start being the editor: this shape needs to be better, this is too disturbing . . . The narratives tell me what to paint; I don’t tell them.
NT: They’re so dreamlike.
SS: I do have vivid dreams.
NT: I see what seems to be the reflection of current events in your paintings. Does your work reflect or help you process the events of current times?
SS: The world is on fire! Of course! I see social media, follow what’s going on, and can’t completely escape it. It creeps in. The process of art making is kind of my therapy. [Laughs] But I don’t set out to paint a specific image; I paint what I see. Someone told me that they saw George Floyd in one of my paintings, so I looked, and there he was. I don’t have an overall plan or sketch; I can’t work that way. I paint the images that I see and go with what heals me in these stressful times.
NT: Do you experience satisfaction, release, other emotions from doing your work?
SS: There is certainly frustration at points. I try to push through. I can get tired of a piece and set it aside for a while. Satisfaction happens when color relationships work and other elements come together.
NT: It looks like you use some printing techniques?
SS: Yes, I enjoy working with patterns and textures, so I often use stamps or blocks that I have carved and print them directly on the canvas. You will notice some images that crop up in different paintings, a hand, a nose, some repeated shapes for texture. I collage some items at times and find that moving a cut-out shape around can help suggest the next step.
NT: What are your main sources of inspiration? What influences your work?
SS: I work as a school librarian, and I am a writer. I have written three books I hope to publish, and I am influenced and inspired by many illustrators and artists. Jim Bradshaw’s illustrations are inspiring. Laurie Lipton, I just discovered her. She does these massive pencil drawings; they’re amazing and quite political, too. I think you’d like them. I love Lynda Barry, the cartoonist. She is incredible; she won a MacArthur Fellowship last year.
NT: What are you obsessed with?
SS: Color! I surround myself with color. I think children need color in their lives. In the library at school, I have spray-painted the stools bright colors. Sometimes I think my colors can be obnoxious, but I can’t help it. To me, it’s like really delicious food. I was a cook for 20 years and loved sumptuous flavors. It’s the same thing with color in my paintings—I want the color to be sumptuous, yummy.
NT: I first met you at the Portland Museum of Art; we were both in the 2020 Untitled show, I was drawn to those sumptuous colors! I just saw your work in the UMVA Members’ Show in Portland as well and was inspired to ask you to do this interview for the MAJ. You fairly recently became a UMVA member. Why did you join, and what does that mean for you?
SS: I have been aware of the UMVA for many years and I read the MAJ. I think I joined in the spring to enter the Goddess exhibit.
I’ve never been a joiner. I’m kind of a recluse, an introvert. I want my work to be recognized, not me. I realized that I need more exposure and have found that being a member is a way to get more involved. I like the support of other artists. I became a member of the Harlow and River Arts and have shown in their exhibits.
NT: Before I go, is there anything else you would like people to know about your work?
SS: People should know that it comes from my intuition. I try to be as honest as I can and listen to that voice. If I don’t, it doesn’t work! I enjoy the feel and smell of the paint and materials. I enjoy the accidental things that happen . . .
Image at top: Sally Stanton, Holding Up the Sky, mixed media, 30 x 30 in., 2020.