Some Thoughts on Alan Stanner’s New Paintings


A woman walks into a bar

To hit a ball with the wrong kind of bat invites a certain type of trouble. To have a ball, to go to a ball and to hit a ball articulate three distinct images. If, as Wittgenstein once said, words provide us with limits -then they can also act as trapdoors too. Handle the bat with care! Alan Stanner’s new paintings promote productive misunderstandings. Like a stand up comedian with a keen sense of wordplay, he deftly negotiates the uncertainty and limits of delivery and reception. So, what kind of bat were we talking about? 

And then…..

The paintings consist of aerial depictions of water, yet they look like camouflage too. Table tennis bats are incorporated to act variously as support, pictorial element and comedic accruement. Tonal rather than chromatic, economic and spare; there is a perpetual conflict in the work between object and representation. The paintings evoke ‘dazzle’ patterns from war ships or an undernourished take on mid-century abstraction – Vorticism with its edges rounded off. To engage with these particular histories invites the suggestion that contemporary painting forms a kind of parenthesis to the achievements of Modernism. What is at stake in painting now? You could argue that a question that has been asked previously doesn’t necessarily lose any urgency. 

A moment of crisis

To return to the studio day after day invites a particular type of crisis. Painting is the framing of three questions taken down to the barest of essentials; what to do, how to do it and finally, when am I finished? A good painting doesn’t just illustrate these choices according to Jan Verwoert but rather produces its own possibilities. It is a physical manifestation of a process that encourages crisis – forcing you to make a decision and continually redefine it. A painterly mark is both a question and exclamation. It is in this space of conflict that the work is kept in transit; the ball is still in play for audience and artist. To make a painting is to produce an object that gives you everything it has – its biography is inherent. 

Decisions, Decisions! 

Robert Ryman’s decision to paint in nothing but white places a megaphone next to every other decision; too small, not big enough, too shiny, a little thinner? Reduction leads to amplification. 

I’ve forgotten what team I’m playing for

If art is analogous to a game of table tennis then the artist is both player as well as referee and the instruction manual has been thrown in the bin. The ball and bat are in my hand but I’m not sure what team I’m on anymore. 

It’s all about the Delivery

Irony is the ability to say something while occupying its opposite. It is the production of distance through the disavowal of a singular position – how do we create something that is both fixed and uncertain? How do we repeat the same questions and maintain the ability to be surprised by what bounces back over that net? 

(Commissioned by The Conch -A forum for critical debate run by Naomi Pearce and hosted at the South London Gallery)

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