Tom Stanley wants to talk about painting. In a series of large paintings and small-scale drawings currently on view in Tom Stanley: Selected Works from 2012-2015 at the George Gallery, Stanley references many concepts from the history of modern painting. Alluding to several notable artists of the past century, Stanley’s clever paintings forge their own distinct style, creating a complex visual narrative addressing the last 100 years of painting.

In this body of work, Stanley’s paintings employ a unique style that assimilates representation and abstraction, and in most cases, they are self-referential. In one painting named Untitled — though they all share this label — Stanley includes a vast array of painterly gestures that have typified major shifts in painting in the twentieth century. Faint drip marks call on Abstract Expressionism, whereas a carefully drawn grid references other objective forms of painting, like Concrete Art and minimalist abstraction. While there are instances of representation, including a ship at sea, a row of houses, and two tree-like figures, the painting ultimately consists of a flattened plane of images and gestures that create a constantly circulating visual narrative.

Often, the works quickly point out their own status as paintings and how exactly they are constructed. Several paintings have representational tableaus among the other typical elements in them — for instance, an image of a crescent moon hovering above two hills acts as a “painting within a painting.” In other works, heavy brushstroke-like gestures are often confined within perfectly-edged squares, neatly juxtaposing expressionistic and hard-edge painting.

While these self-referential techniques make for fascinating paintings, they ultimately would not succeed without Stanley’s close attention to form and color. While his color palette is relatively subdued in these paintings — focusing on shades of brown, pink, and gray — his sharp, decisive use of lines and geometric shapes particularly stands out. The formal properties of each painting help to seamlessly weave the art historical references into each composition, resulting in compositions that continually circulate between image and idea.

There are also several small-scale drawings within the show, and they offer a departure from the visual narratives of the larger paintings. Consisting of whimsical compositions using vivid color and circuitous lines, the drawings are much more abstract. Interestingly, they are connected to some of the visual forms of the paintings, but without specific references to art history, they function entirely differently.

The over-arching effect is that the works encapsulate the history of modern painting, weaving diverse references together to explore new ways of viewing and thinking about paintings. At a time when many in the art world are ready to declare painting’s demise in that it continues to repeat itself, Stanley offers a refreshing perspective on the traditional medium, one that makes for fascinating canvases that beckon the viewer to  read over and over again.

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