Comprising Waldgeschichten (Forest Stories) & Cornish Coast, Very Like Jazz, and Wonky Geometry. From a new series of pictures using the ancient woodlands of Europe and the USA as a starting point to new paintings from the Cornish Coast series, by way of the Wonky Geometry series and some other new pictures that come from listening to too much fifties jazz David Manley presents new work from over the past twenty months since leaving the warm embrace of HMS.
I never quite understood why painters have to set a stylistic course and then follow it through all their years. I guess it makes it easier for gallerists and dealers but it seems so distressingly limited. I recall being obsessed with Frank Stella after seeing his early black stripe paintings in 1969 at the Tate’s Art Of The Real show and then buying his small monograph published by Penguin a couple years later. In it he disparagingly writes about painting in different manners on different days depending on his mood actually calling it dangerous! Odd really given his creative trajectory over the past fifty plus years! And so it seemed to me even back then, after all the object and the subject of painting was crumbling in front of us during the 1970’s, so why not celebrate it? Of course art mostly went other ways, even away from the object, and has steamed headlong into all manner of stuff and subjects. But painting persists; indeed over the past decade or so it has reasserted its position within the contemporary art arena gobbling up photography in digital form so that the image is simply one strategy amongst many that is churned up in the creative mill. And so I make no apologies for peddling several quite different styles, tropes and strategies in these paintings.
The title of this show comes from my reflections on how I think about the individual groups of works on display here. Some paintings in my head, like those I just completed for the series entitled Waldgeschichten, are all about touch and taste – they are about pushing and pulling paint about, taking a great big nag out of the pigment and chowing down on it voraciously. But then there are paintings like the Cornish Coast series…where its sound that seems to be the predominant factor…and its a sound of something that has real deliberation about it. I guess I’m thinking about Satie or Keith Jarrett playing solo and live (The Koln Concert and beyond) or Nils Frahm. In all this music its the intervals and silences, the tiny changes wrought out of the material, and so carefully considered. Anyway that’s how I think about these works and the way in which, operating within a much tighter formal construct, colour and surface can interact to produce something hopefully worthwhile. So I have ideas around sight, sound, touch and taste going on in my head…and when I work with oils (and to be strictly accurate some of my acrylic concoctions!) I suppose smell comes into it too. So that’s how the title has arrived.
There are four groups of work on show – on the left as you enter:
WONKY GEOMETRY – Acrylic & flasche on aluminium,
Shabby Sixfivesevens, 48 cm. diameter, 2016
Old Sixfiveseven Again, 48 cm. diameter, 2015
Circus in Sixfive, 48 cm. diameter, 2015
Butterfly seven, 48 cm. diameter, 2016
Twosevens Breath, 48 cm. diameter, 2015
Threesix Straitjacket, 48 cm. diameter, 2015
Sixsevens (Summer Dog Days), 72 x 48 cm., 2016
I’ve been playing around, on and off, with geometric forms for donkeys years and in 2011 hit on the idea of jumbling up 5, 6 & 7 sided figures to push around shape and colour within the circular form. Just lately I’m using the oval to shake up the process a wee bit.
On the right facing the Wonky Geometry is a group of six paintings from the Cornish Coast series.
CORNISH COAST – 30 x 30 x 7.8 cm., Acrylic & flashe on board,
From left to right top row:
Porth Ledden, 2016
South Zawn, 2016
Priest’s Cove, 2015
From left to right bottom row:
Zawn Buzz & Gen, 2016
North Zawn, 2016
Carn Gloose, 2015
Three or four years back I made a largish series of very small canvas blocks using a fairly simple proscenium arch device as a means to explore colour and surface reflecting my passion for West Penwith, the far end of Cornwall. I tried making them larger at the time but wasn’t entirely happy with the outcomes (actually I’d used the same structure at the same size over forty years back so perhaps it was the sense of deja vu that spoilt my enjoyment of them!). Mulling it over for a couple years (my brain is slow and old…) I came to the conclusion I needed to increase all the dimensions in the same ratio. So last autumn I started over and began making these on Cape Cornwall, though several have only been completed very recently.
Around the corner on the big long wall is Waldgeschichten, the Forest Stories.
This series began life as collages that took the very simple idea of woodland as their starting point. As it developed I returned to Simon Schama’s Landscape & Memory Harper Collins, London, 1995, a book that informed some much earlier reflections on Wood whilst I worked on a photographic project back in 2008. In addition to my own observations and images that inform the paintings I began to think more deeply about certain aspects and ideas that occur throughout his text. Whilst none of these notions are directly translated into the panels they did influence the way I reacted to the paintings as they developed. The texts are taken from the book and are a part of the construct in my head but they can just as easily be simply a means of delineating one image from another. But if you are interested in them they follow each title with the relevant page reference. The work as a whole is intended to be viewed as dense and compressed in the way I imagine ancient woodland would have been (something you really cannot find in Europe today!).
WALDGESCHICHTEN (Forest Stories) – each 106 x 94 cm., Acrylic & flashe on paper,
From right to left, top then bottom are:
“intacta aves et congenita mundo/prope immortali sorte miracula excedia
(coeval with the world, which surpasses all marvels by its almost immortal destiny)” p.83
Cowley’’s Introduction “We nowhere greater art do see/Than when we graft or bud a tree” p.160
Land Und Leute
“A village without a forest is like a town without any historical buildings, theatre or art galleries.
Forests are games fields for the young, feasting-places for the old.” p.114
Lament of the Wild Forest-Folk
“When all the world will see the light/And every man live true, upright,/In equal,unconniving good,
It’s then we’ll gladly leave the wood.” p.98
“Yet is thy root sincere, sound as the rock,/A quarry of stout spurs and knotted fangs,
Which, crook’d into a thousand whimsies, clasp/The stubborn soil, and hold thee still erect.” p.170
“We be yeomen of this Forest/Under the Greenwood Tree/We live by the King’s decree/Other shift have not wee” p.151
Senancour in Fontainebleau
“I scrambled up the slopes that were still covered in darkness; soaked myself in the dew-drenched heather,
and when the sun finally appeared I was saddened by gathering brightness that precedes the dawn.
I loved best the hollows, the dark valleys, the thickest woods.” p.550
‘Barba riget late pendentibus horrida villis,/Lumina terrorum plena furore ruben/Terribilisque iubae collo funduntur in armos/Et genua et frontem et pectoris ima tegunt.” (A bristling beard hanging in shaggy lengths, Its eyes, shining with a fearful red rage, And a terrible mane spreading from its neck, And covering shoulders and knees and breast.) p.39
“I don’t care about the state,/This is my state,/nature; you understand:/the state of nature.” p.74
“The marvellous size does not go into gilt frames./You paint a Big Tree and it only looks like a common tree
in a cramped coffin.” p.194
The Antiquity of Freedom
“old trees, tall oaks and gnarled pines…/Peaceful, unpruned, immeasurably old/My thoughts go up the long dim path of years” p.199
“I found myself ranging the woods,/like a half-starved hound,/with a strange abandonment…/no morsel could have been too savage for me” p.571
From Jaques De Bois
“Men of great worth resorted to this forest,/Address’d a mighty power; which were on foot,/In his own conduct, purposely to take/His brother here and put him to the sword:” p.141
“Who knows whether men won’t come to cut the forest…/but whatever their law might be…/I would call to the barbarians,/I forbid you to do this…” p.66
Beuys In Grenfenberger
“If anyone tries to cut down these trees, /we shall sit in the branches.” p.124
‘Overcome Party Dictatorship Now!’
“stunted, worm-like trees/Are reft of leaves and bark by foul disease./With branches tangled up in mossy knots,/And hump-backed trunks and beards…” p.59
“A fallen oak thrusts branches to the sky,/Like a huge building, from which overgrown/Protrude the broken shafts and walls overthrown.” p.59
“Thy Trees, fair Windsor! now shall leave their woods,/And half thy Forests rush into my Floods,
Bear Britain’s Thunder and her Cross display,/To the bright Regions of the rising Day…” p.163
Facing you as you enter the studios, and running along the walls between studios are four paintings from the Very Like Jazz series. Again from left to right they are:
VERY LIKE JAZZ – Acrylic on board, 2016
Night In Tunisia, 59.8 x 75 cm.
Better Git It In Your Soul, 59.8 x 75 cm.
Running The Voodoo Down, 59.8 x 75 cm.
Willow Weep For Me, 60 x 47 cm.
and they take the idea of the geometric exploration as their starting point and have proceeded by way of fifties and sixties Jazz album design muddled and befuddled by some riffs drawn from that charming strain of modernist design of the the nineteen fifties. At the core of this has been a desire to complicate the frame further and extend the range and nature of the forms and especially the colour relationships.
Constraints of space, time, energies and finance meant I couldn’t include either my Ragbags or my Paintings Standing Up on this occasion. Another time maybe.