Catalogue to gallery exhibition of the same name, March 22–April 28, 2023.
“I called God from the narrow place, he answered me in expansiveness.” —Psalm 118
Hirschl & Adler Modern is proud to present From the narrow place, James Everett Stanley’s debut solo exhibition with the gallery. Collapsing time, space, and personhood through gestural representation and fractured picture planes, these nine new paintings stand as non-linear stories of people’s lives. Along with the depictions of his friends and neighbors on Cape Cod, the artist gives equal importance to the landscape of the area, which he sees as continually changing and constantly under threat. A sense of precarity pervades each picture, wherein each person needs to stay attuned to nature’s sudden shifts.
Throughout From the narrow place, Stanley relies on pictorial collage to allow multiple ideas and images to exist in a single visual field. In splintered spaces behind the central figures in I cut them down, grass gives way to marsh and, ultimately, the sea, while the sky, bright blue in some spots is heavy and leaden in others. The background’s fractured composition reads as a non-linear depiction of time, through weather, and space as landscape, resulting in what feels like a full day’s journey. All of this plays out behind the portrait of a father and child. Their body language hints at the psychological effects of the environment itself. The father’s right hand opens tensely, his glance projecting awareness and vulnerability, while the child, whose eyes remain locked on the viewer, blends into the scenery behind him.
Stanley’s verisimilitude as a painter, stylistically ranging from stark realism to gestural abstraction, reinforces the collage aesthetic in his compositions. In Star, a girl pours water from pitchers into a tidal river and another into a stream. Her body is realistically and richly painted, pushing her into the very front of the composition. Around her, the verdant growth beside the river is rendered in wide, washy blocks of color and the stream morphs into tight abstract swirls of black and white strokes. Far from acting in opposition to each other, the contrasting styles work together to present different moments signifying reality, memory, or movement. It is, as the artist has described, “pulling together disparate elements to create something fuller than a single strain of experience.”
The exhibition title is taken from Psalm 118 and “the narrow place” has been interpreted as despair, distress or being “hard pressed.” Stanley likens the position to being an artist, recontextualizing it in his own need to understand it: How does one give visual expression to the entirety of someone’s thoughts and emotions, to their past and their present? The psalm tells us the answer. The paintings in From the narrow place are Stanley’s effort to depict that expansiveness.