by Adam McPartlan
May 13, 2019
When the Compound Gallery at 2422 Third Ave. in the Bronx contacted John Stango about a commission and exhibit, Stango was thrilled. Not just because he loves painting, but because the subject of the exhibit, Muhammad Ali, was not an unfamiliar subject to him.
“I had already done a painting of Ali that is actually hanging in his museum,” Stango said. “I don’t know how they came to know about the work, but they asked and I donated it. It was a great honor.”
Half of the exhibit is dedicated to paintings of Ali. One painting is a copy of the one hanging in the museum; another looks like a 1960’s derivative boxing poster. But there is one wall, the wall that you first lay eyes on as you enter the space, that is dedicated to four very specific and special paintings of Ali.
“I wanted to show his growth from a kid to the man he became,” Stango said. “From when he was young and Cassius Clay to when he stood over Liston and really became Muhammad Ali.”
It quickly became clear not just how much he loves art, but how much everyone at the gallery loves his art. All through Wednesday night’s opening, thisistheBronX saw that visitor after visitor came up to him and shook his hand and congratulated him on the work. One even made sure to mention how much Ali meant to him personally and how great it was that this was here.
“The gallery owner was a friend of Ali, but he also collects my work,” Stango said. “It really means a lot to me that all these people came out to see it.”
But this is only half of the exhibit; the other half is devoted to things and people Stango just felt like painting. There is a painting of Kurt Cobain, another of Audrey Hepburn, and another reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Can painting.
“I was coming to the Bronx, so I had to have something of a Bronx legend,” Stango said about his Derek Jeter work. “My favorite painting [here] is the one with The Fast and the Furious. It was just a lot of fun to paint.”
His favorite of his own paintings ever, though, belongs to a Mickey Mouse collage he did when he was just starting out, after graduating from Temple University’s art school. Disney saw it and, in an unsurprising turn of events, sued him.
“I didn’t have their permission, so they sued me,” Stango said. “But it’s still my favorite.”
Stango was always attracted to the idea of painting pop culture images and icons. Many critics of the genre tend to ask what the meanings behind the paintings are. Despite being influenced by Warhol and his cousin, Norman Rockwell, Stango said that question is one that should never be posed when talking about his work.
“There is no message in anything I paint,” Stango said. “I paint what looks cool. I just like bright colors, and want people to see them.”
Stango, a Philadelphia native, has an instagram chock full of sports paintings that he was very happy to show off, including one of Nick Foles, the Eagles quarterback who gave Philly their first Super Bowl in 2018. His next commission will be paintings of handbags for ladies and Tiger Woods.