In That I Trust
With a cursory glance at the work of Stano G., it’s easy for a viewer to place these paintings in the category of “political art,” as the artist employs a bold, Soviet era formal language with ease. However, Stano’s practice is not as much about politics or revolution as it is a punk rock kind of disregard for the didacticism and authoritarianism for which this aesthetic was created. The works in “In That I Trust” are indicative of the artist’s practice of internalizing, leveling and reinterpreting the figures and ideologies of Western history.
References to and symbols of Christianity play an important role in the content of Stano’s work, with Catholicism and its constructs often at the forefront. In works like Ready to Use and This Side Up, the ubiquitous Virgin and Child iconography is taken out of its usual context, displayed before the viewer beneath instructional texts: “READY TO USE,” and “DO NOT INTERPRET.” Here, the artist eschews the narrative and ideological meanings embedded within one of the most readily recognizable images in history, turning the tables instead upon the act of viewing. Stano’s message is not to convince us as to whether the practices of faith and worship are right or wrong; rather, he provides a context that makes the intangible constructs around this image more transparent, allowing us not only to question the power of the symbol, but also the ways by which icons in general achieve their powerful statuses.
Another facet of Catholicism Stano examines is the papacy, in particular, the short-lived term of the now retired Pope Benedict XVI. I Am a Star and Everybody Loves Me features mirrored images of Benedict, arms in the air as if acknowledging an adoring crowd. The work’s title, emblazoned across the top of the composition, supplants the pope from his pious context, replacing him instead into that of celebrity. Looking at Benedict from this alternate vantage point conjures up all the non-spiritual associations inherent in his position: ambition, sovereignty, fame. However, while Stano seemingly undermines the papacy in I Am a Star and Everybody Loves Me, in Me & Pope, the he’s rather sympathetic. In this work, two uniformed boys are placed side by side: a portrait of the artist as a boy on the left, and the young Joseph Ratzinger on the right. For Stano, Benedict’s Hitler Youth past (oft cited by the pope’s critics) reminds the artist of his own youthful participation in the boys division of the Communist party in 1980s Czechoslovakia –not at all a result of any kind of political alliance, but, as the artist recalls, merely the result of a childlike longing to “wear a uniform, and be part of a club.”
As layers of history, context and credo are peeled away, it’s Stano’s individual point of view that now informs the meaning of these icons. Whether he’s finding parallels between his sleepy, mohawked drinking buddy and Friedrich Nietzsche in Punks Not Dead – God is Dead, or seeing a visual resemblance to himself in the long-haired, bearded visage of Rasputin in In Death Metal I Trust, it’s this unique manner of filtering history through the sieve of his own experiences that makes Stano’s works so meaningful and accessible.