by Jacqueline Rupp
Bold splashes of Technicolor, fast cars and faster women: welcome to the world of John Stango’s pop art. Full of aggressive brush strokes, steeped in testosterone-fueled Americana and drawing upon the pulp and noir aesthetic of the 1950s, Stango’s art can be enjoyed at its local exhibition running now through Dec. 31 at the Carol Schwartz Gallery, 101 Bethlehem Pike.
Viewing Stango’s art is like taking a time-traveling voyage back to another era, all with a distinctly modern twist. “The elements that inspire my work most are retro noir and retro urban noir,” explains Stango, 54, whom we caught up with as his exhibition opened.
“I’m a huge fan of 1950s and 1960s pulp fiction films and books, films like ‘Asphalt Jungle,’ hot rod movies and films that feature retro bombshell girls. The more curves, the more interest. Everything was real, people smoked cigarettes, milk was whole, girls didn’t diet, being voluptuous was a way of life.”
And Stango translates that way of life from up-close action-packed portraits of super heroes and movie stars to characters he creates that look like starlets from B-movie posters from decades ago. His work has been compared to the pop art greats like Andy Warhol, LeRoy Neiman and Peter Max.
When asked to choose his current favorites, Stango points to his uber-sexy bombshell series, like the Stewardess paintings, that use actual flight attendants as models and transforms them into aviation sex sirens on canvas.
This self-described “Philly boy” works from his local studio where he takes a few days to a week to complete a piece. “I’m definitely a South Philly painter because that’s where I’m from,” says Stango. “My works have a sort of Philly funk to them. South Philadelphia is the land of the ‘The Sound of Philadelphia’ from the ‘70s and the home of my Italian heritage, like the 9th Street Italian Market, Passyunk Ave, Pat’s Steaks, etc. I’m painting the world … with a South Philly flair.”
After attending Tyler School of Art, Stango was pulled away from Philly for a time by the big NYC department stores that hired him as a merchandiser because of the promising artistic vision he showed. Stango recalls hanging in the back rooms with mannequins and trying to sneak his artwork into the backgrounds of displays any way he could. “The strangest thing was seeing some of my graffiti from the walls of my display workshop in Bloomingdale’s show up on-line recently. Someone actually cut out a section of drywall from 30 years ago, had it framed and was auctioning it off.”
But Stango soon returned to Philly to begin his art career, and what began as a practical location now provides him with both the urban vibe that nourishes his work and the space needed to let his creative juices fly. “What inspires me about Philadelphia is the history of the city, the flag. I love the American flag, which is my signature piece,” explains Stango. “Sometimes I feel like I’m the former boyfriend of Betsy Ross because my flags are sort of an homage to the modern attitude of Philadelphia and the rest of the United States.”
Stango describes the American aesthetic as “big and bold,” and those words can certainly be used for his art as well. He coined the term “Popaganda” to describe how his work is designed to inspire patriotism on the most basic levels, illustrating the subjects that unite Americans, rather than those that separate us.
As for the future, Stango says there are many new subjects he’s planning to paint, including a ski series. Look for a repeat visit to the Carol Schwartz Gallery as well, but for now locals can enjoy his current exhibition here through Dec. 31.
More information at 215-242-4510 or www.carolschwartzgallery.com .
Jacqueline Rupp is a Willow Grove freelance writer, co-publisher of a magazine called Philly Current (www.phillycurrent.com), homebirther, former glitter nail polish junkie, former parachute pants wearer, would-be jogger, unapologetic text addict, pseudo poet and hashtag hater.