Rorschach Test

In Mel Brooks’ 1963 film The Critic, we see abstract images dance across the screen. A voice-over narration – Brooks’ voice – recounts an old man’s confusion over the images and the meaning of the film.

Looking at Adam Stanforth’s abstractions at the Anne Reid Gallery at Princeton Day School, one can’t help wondering what Mr. Brooks’ character would say.

As sighted in the hallway leading to the gallery, Mr. Stanforth’s Masonite canvases appear luminescent. Gallery lights bounce incandescence off them, but they seem to glow with their own illumination.As with patterns in clouds or tree bark, it’s fun to imagine real forms from the shapes. Mr. Stanforth seems to suggest numerous objects: Snowflakes, flowers, brain stems, amoebas, party frills, exploding atoms, tangles of seaweed or confetti. Rorschach tests.

Seen assembled on the home page of adamstanforth.com, they make up yet a new pattern. In some cases, adjoining images blend together to form new forms.
In the PDS gallery, Mr. Stanforth has constructed a wood grid from which to hang the artwork, so the whole exhibit is sort of a site-specific installation, much like one he did in Honey’s Space, a Chelsea, N.Y., gallery, last winter. That’s where Jody Erdman, curator of the Anne Reid Gallery, met him.
At 11th Avenue between 1st and 2nd streets, the former gay bar and warehouse has no windows, no heat and no drain pipe under the sink. But the gallery and studio space also comes with no rent, and is alongside some of the most high-end galleries in the world, such as Matthew Marks.

“It’s funky and dirty,” says Ms. Erdman.

An article in The New York Times described it as having a “fine coating of black gunk on everything.”

But out of this funky gunk comes some of the most colorful, playful artwork.

“They are floating biological spaces,” Ms. Erdman says of the work. “There’s energy and tension, and they move at different speeds… He describes his work as ‘metaphorical petri dishes of macro/microscopic bodies of matter.'”

Mr. Stanforth’s technique involves water to pool the paint; then he moves it around and lets it dry, employing brushes, knives, sticks and cups, as needed. The artist eschews oils or acrylics for cheap latex.

“My medium is water, so the paint is not important,” he says. “Benjamin Moore is nice, but I’m not going to shell out that kind of money. Whatever they have at Lowe’s or Home Depot is what I use, but I won’t use Behr – that stuff is bad. The consistency isn’t consistent, it’s gloppy.”

One can just imagine the artist, who, for a living, drives artwork around New York City for a framer, pondering the numerous choices at the paint chip station – “chilled cantaloupe,” “fresh periwinkle.” He says he only uses primary colors and mixes them.

Mr. Stanforth, who lives in the nascent Red Hook section of Brooklyn, graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2000 with a focus on painting. He took several trips around the country before settling down to the business of art. Looking for a way to expand from two dimensions to three, he started building grids to create painting installations.

He is inspired by nature, but not nature that is necessarily found in a forest. “The natural world is everywhere,” he says. “It could be a tree on a street or a crack in the sidewalk.”

Visiting Princeton over the Labor Day weekend to install his grids and paintings, Mr. Stanforth says he went for a swim in the “river” on the way back to Brooklyn.

River? Did he mean Carnegie Lake? “It was under the bridge on the way out of town,” he recounts. “It was in the forest, past a boggy canal. There were people in boats.”

Journey Repose, paintings by Adam Stanforth, is on view at the Anne Reid Art Gallery, Princeton Day School, 650 The Great Road, Princeton, through Oct. 3 Gallery hours: Mon.-Fri. 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (609) 624-6700; http://www.pds.org;

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