Perennial Dan’s Papers cover artist favorite Mike Stanko talks about what makes his work unique, finding new subjects and interesting challenges he plans on tackling, plus the white Chuck Taylor sneakers on our June 5, 2020 issue.
What was the inspiration for this piece?
Whether I find inspiration in my garden, days at the beach, travels near or abroad, or even the lunch on my plate, most of my work comes from things that tug at my heart and excites me visually. Such is the case with my series of sneaker paintings. I grew up with high-top sneakers, and still wear them today. In the ’80’s, I played drums in a band and I had high-tops in six different colors. A white pair was one of my favorites.
What makes a piece distinctly “Stanko?”
I suppose what makes a “Stanko” a “Stanko” are the bright vivid colors, bold black outlines, and imagery usually perceived as positive and fun! I take it as a compliment—I hope it is—when people tell me, “I can pick out a ‘Stanko’ a mile away.”
How do you find new subjects to paint?
Honestly, just by living everyday life I find new subjects to paint. Just the other day, as I was pandemic-cleaning my studio shelves, I came across the box of marbles I played with as a child. I forgot I even had them! As soon as I finish the Coney Island boardwalk painting, another favorite subject of mine, I’m going to paint my childhood marbles. Again, it’s another image that’ll tug at my heart.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists?
I’m a big fan of photography, from Ansel Adams to Annie Liebovitz. Photography speaks to me and I take many photographs myself that build up a treasure trove of ideas for paintings. But there are so many painters I admire. Just now thinking off the top of my head—Wayne Thiebaud, I love his work and the intense simplicity of his subjects and his painting style. Wolf Kahn, another favorite…I love his landscapes with his vibrant color palette. And, David Hockney’s bright pop colors and images of those familiar to him.
You are very distinguished as an artist. What are some aspects of creating art that have become easier for you and some that are still challenges?
Perhaps, one thing that has become easier is knowing my color palette. Painting all these years, I know what colors work off each other best, what colors will hit the viewers’ eyes first to project the real sense of the image I’m trying to project.
The challenge I find myself confronting more often now is painting people. I usually do not have anyone in my work (empty boardwalks, empty beach chairs, and empty sneakers)…but that began to change after a trip to Italy. Karen and I were in a small hill town when we came across a boys choir, in monk-like robes, singing.. the moment struck me and stayed with me. I had to challenge myself and—put it this way—I was very happy with the result.
Where is the first place you’d like to go on the East End when the quarantine fully lifts (and it’s safe)?
That’s easy! On the North Fork, it’s the Modern Snack Bar, to eat and visit our friends John and Otto, on our way to the wineries! On the South Fork, what else? Our tradition of stopping at The Clam Bar for a lobster roll and maybe a stroll around the grounds of the LongHouse Reserve. Oh, and of course, grabbing a jelly croissant from the Montauk Bakery!
Learn more about Mike Stanko’s work at stankoart.com.