The Many Journeys of Janice Stanton

Janice Stanton on the Croatian island of Cres with her camera and gear in tow.

On a torrentially rainy and windswept spring afternoon in New York City, Janice Stanton’s apartment was a warm and quiet refuge. In a long and low renovated Gothic-style stone building, one of the oldest in Chelsea, her rambling flat was modern and cozy, tonal and bright.

Perched on bookshelves and windowsills and set out on a long table were the products of five years of artistic labor, collages she has created as part of series and as stand-alone pieces. 

While the work has a high degree of finish and sophistication, it was no overnight revelation. Rather, Ms. Stanton took a long journey to arrive at her current place, one that moved through dance, intellectual property law, photography, and filmmaking.

She has divided her time between the city and South Fork for close to 30 years, first in Water Mill and now in what she describes as the smallest house in Sagaponack on the smallest lot on Parsonage Lane. The property overlooks a 40-acre preserve that is still farmed, and she can also see the water. “Mostly I look out over that majestic field.”

Although she keeps most of her work in the city, she loves working here. “I don’t know how you could be out there and not be taken by the light and lushness of the landscape, and all of the amazing artists who worked there.”

You can see elements, or more accurately sensations, drawn from the landscape creeping into her abstract compositions: the faded gray and brown of weathered shingles, a patch of blue inspired by sky or water. “I’ve spent a long time out there with my camera, so inspired.” She notes that the intimacy she feels with nature when she is in Sagaponack “carries over in a way to the collages.” Their measurements hover at around a foot on each side.

Their themes are cerebral or internationally inspired. A few recent ones focus on a trip to Cuba. You can see references to peeling walls and the layers underneath. A photograph she included of the back of a painting reminded her of “what life would be like without art,” a reaction to the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. The piece is layered with string, torn paper, fabric, gauze, strips of cardboard, text in pencil, chalk, and more. And yet, it is spare, minimalist, contained. Nothing seems superfluous.

When she was first starting out, “I was so drawn to the arts. I considered whether to pursue that road, but also wanted to have a career where I would have a level of financial independence. We all know how difficult it is to survive as an artist.”

Photos are often the basis of her compositions. Her original forays into art-making started with photography, through classes at the International Center for Photography — where she eventually served on the board for a decade — and workshops with masters of the field such as Mary Ellen Mark, Sally Gall, Peter Turnley, and Arlene Collins.

It has been two decades since she worked in the law, but even then she tried to keep her work focused on the arts. At the corporate law firm Hughes, Hubbard & Reed, she worked closely with Orville Schell (father of Orville Schell III, a writer and expert on China), who was chairman of the New York City Ballet for many years and pursued human rights cases. Ms. Stanton followed his lead. “I’m a huge fan of the ballet; I danced as a child,” she said. She also worked on international human rights cases.

Then, she found herself increasingly involved in First Amendment work, particularly intellectual property law. She said she thought working with artists on those issues would be a good compromise. “Of course once you become a practicing attorney, you realize it’s pretty much the same whether your client is in the art field or making widgets.” 

She continued at The Wall Street Journal, developing its First Amendment and intellectual property department, and became assistant general counsel before she left. She also served as an interim director for the Aperture Foundation.

While photography and travel consumed much of her time after the law, she also became interested in documentary filmmaking. In 2005 she joined Alice Shure to form Amici Films, a production company for art-related documentaries. She has worked on three films since. Released in 2008, “Grace Hartigan/Shattering Boundaries” is about the midcentury painter who kept up with the boys in the fiercely masculine world of Abstract Expressionist painting. “Making Space: Five Women She has one more long-term film project in the works, “but collage is my principal focus.” To that end, she has met with curators and art dealers who have been encouraging. Coco Myers showed her work this winter in a series of pop-up shows in East Hampton and Bridgehampton. Anders Wahlstedt Fine Art in Manhattan will be showing her work through July 28, with an opening reception this evening.

Over the years, she has amassed boxes of old envelopes and postcards, stamps, samples of writing, measuring tape the perfect shade of drab, screens, sandpaper, gauze, old magazine articles, and more for her collages. 

She has a series inspired by Emily Dickinson, whose poems were found mostly after her death on scraps of paper around the house. Titled “Fragments,” the series of nine works uses the interplay of words, imagery, and found objects to convey that theme. Another series of 16 works came from an exercise where she limited her range of materials and kept to a defined palette, to see how much variety and subject she could convey under such constraints.

Elie Wiesel’s death last year reminded her of how few witnesses to the Holocaust are left. “Millennials know so little about it. We’re not carrying on the memory in the same way.” Having visited the Holocaust Memorial in Israel last year, she has included portions of photographs of ledgers and writings from the camps in her recent work, “in some cases hidden, others not.” Some contain quotations from Wiesel as a way for her “to preserve memory, have a tangible continuum.” The handwriting, calligraphy, and even the typewritten word on paper have a sense of history fitting for such a purpose.

Janice Stanton’s recent works have incorporated more color and are breaking out of the confines of her frame.