Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Finding a Meaning Outside of the Frame

by Sarah Harford

If there is one recurring image in my mind these past few weeks, it’s a great wide-open field. I know this sounds cliché, but this mirage has been inspiring my college graduate soul in the world of art and it isn’t even imagery in one of Peter Manion III’s pieces, which I recently discussed and analyzed with the artist in Art Saint Louis’ recent exhibition "Under The Influence." In fact, this image of an open field is one that my yoga instructor gives us during savasanah, and even though my mind should be clear during this part of practice, all I can think about are the endless possibilities of my future in art.

"Under The Influence" at Art Saint Louis was a juried exhibition showcasing various St. Louis regional artists’ inspirations when it came to their works. Among the pieces selected for the exhibit by Jurors Kit Keith and Tim Liddy were Conversation and Judith II by St. Louis artist Peter Manion III. These artworks stood out to me because of their large size, use of media and subject matter. The two paintings are allusions to historical masterpieces by Henri Matisse and Amerighi da Caravaggio.

One might suggest that famous painters are Manion’s muses. But something else triggers this artist to draw what he does and it wasn’t until we spoke in-person about what it means to be an artist that I truly discovered what his real muse is: going the distance.

Peter Manion III. Conversation. 2012. Enamel, Colored Pencil on Paper, 55”x81”.

In his artwork Conversation, the artist’s style manifests itself in the execution and planning of the piece. When you look at this drawing, you see two large opaque figures in the foreground of the piece and a realistic rendering in the background. After inquiring about the purpose of these two figures, Manion informed me that he used his own speculation about the original’s meaning, “The figures in the a painting look ominous, so you don’t know what they are talking about. They could be fighting or they could be lovers. They are two people discussing something for good and for bad.” The two intertwining figures in the background are done in colored pencil, which is a nice contrast compared to the strong and thick application of enamel for the foreground imagery.

Manion rearranges these elements throughout his work and enjoys the diversity of his audience’s reactions to the multiple outcomes. I mentioned to Peter how the differences between mediums was often under discussion. For example, in my own work, I was known for bringing in dyed pieces to my painting class and the majority of my peers’ critique questioned the qualification of my work as a painting. He responded, “As an artist you need to take away these barriers and open up to these different ways of making art. Like mixing fibers with other mediums.” Peter slightly smiled as he remembered an important lesson he learned in his sculpture class where a student brought in a three-dimensional drawing. He became enlightened by the professor’s reaction to other student’s questioning. “It is important [for students] to learn because you would be narrowing the possibilities of what you are doing. As an artist, I work best taking those barriers away and moving in between these medias.”

Peter Manion III. Colossus. 2013. Oil, Enamel, Mixed Media on Paper, 12”x60”.

When Peter was young, his mother often displayed pieces from well known painters in their own home. And like many other artists, he refers to these home memories when it comes to creating work. “You just do it. You need to go to your past and write what you know and understand.” But what Peter demonstrates through his artwork proves that being an artist means that you shouldn’t stop there. When you look at Conversation you notice the heavy amount of mediums applied to some areas and the delicate colors and lines used to form imagery behind them. The same concept is applied to Judith II with wide and free brushstrokes covering the canvas with a pencil sketch lying underneath. “I can make something interesting without using stuff that people said I had to use. These materials are less intimidating, which means you are more free with the work.” These works provoke the viewers’ interpretation and they do so through the application of non- traditional techniques.

However, there comes a time when investing in materials is necessary. “You take it more seriously. Before you just make work because you knew that you were supposed to and then you realize that it is your duty as a full-time artist.” A good presentation is key, so when it comes to taking risks or spending money, it is the responsibility of the artist in order for their piece to be successful.

The artist Peter Manion III with some of his smaller works on paper.

For Manion, the sophisticated display choices do not stop with the artwork’s mediums. In our discussion, Peter noted that Art Saint Louis’ new gallery on Pine Street isn’t a typical square Gallery space or cube as many gallery spaces are, but instead is more of a platform with corners, long walls, moving walls, and nooks. “Sometimes I display my smaller works along with my larger works so that the viewers have that freedom to move in closer to the pieces and as far back as they like. They then really utilize the gallery space much better.” The way that Peter discussed a gallery’s impact on an artwork reminded me about Alfred Steiglitz’ dual display of Pablo Picasso’s works and his Iberian influences.

Peter Manion III. Aye. 2012. Enamel, Mixed Media, Colored Pencil on Paper 60”x 86”.

Peter Manion III’s life as an artist changed when his wife accepted a job at the Saint Louis Art Museum. It was there that curators and art collectors were introduced to Manion’s work. One collector in particular shed light for Manion on what it meant to be an artist and having collectors admire and buy work. “As an artist you have to have confidence in your work. You get this feeling that you have to make work that people like or they just buy it to help you. But, they buy it because they actually find it appealing for them.” In Manion’s case, he realized that it wasn’t the charity of the buyers, but their admiration for the arts and its discussion. Peter’s advice for a full-time artist is letting a gallery find you, and not the other way around. Often times, artists get rejected, yet it ultimately resolves itself as the artist is a solid producer and makes work for art’s sake. As a result, you will develop a style and you will be discovered. You learn to take control of your career and find ways for a balanced life.

“You are an artist or you are not. If you do make something and don’t sell it, it doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist. If you make something and it isn’t good it doesn’t mean you aren’t an artist. It’s better than killing someone, you make something that is harmless but adds to the well being of the community. Any artist cannot deny the feeling of motivation whether it is money, fame or the love of it. It’s great to get noticed, but that isn’t what motivates me. Making work does. If you're not making anything, it doesn’t count.”

Peter Manion III’s work will be exhibited at SOHA Studio & Gallery in September 2014. His work is currently presented and available at Niche Furnishings + Design, Frill Home, and The Collective.

This is Sarah Harford’s second article for the Art Saint Louis/Art Dialogue Blog. She is currently serving as a Fall 2013 Intern for Art Saint Louis. A visual artist, she earned her BFA in Studio Art from Truman State University in 2012.