Questions & Artists: Oil Painter Mara Manning

Cappaert Contemporary Gallery opens its doors to the 2017 season with the addition of Michigan oil and encaustic painter Mara Manning. This award-winning Escanaba artist and recently retired art teacher boasts an impressive artistic resume, having run a pop-up gallery space in Milwaukee, lived out the artist’s dream in the alternative art scene of 1980s Brooklyn, and spent nearly a quarter century as a high school art teacher in Ashwaubenon.

Her current artwork focuses on simple house shapes to elicit a feeling of place for viewers. Manning has had solo shows at Mr. Helsinki in Fish Creek and been part of The Hardy Gallery’s annual juried exhibit. Most recently her work was selected for Art Prize 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Alyssa Skiba (AS): You’ve only recently added encaustic to your oil process. How has that changed your work?

Mara Manning (MM): The encaustic medium was an addition when I took a class at the Peninsula Art School about five years ago. It adds a lot of texture and a lot of sort of simulated dimension because you can spread and scratch and use a razor blade to dig into the work and uncover and unveil things that have been part of the pre-painting process.


AS: What’s your layering process?

MM: I’m building up layers of color that I plan to reveal as I eventually get to the real painting that I’m going to do on top of it. There’s sort of false paintings and different colors underneath it in order to be able to get the end result. With these, I’m using little hand-cut stencils to create the house shape forms or some of them have fish in them, some of them have an illusion of a window or a light…and then taking either a squeegee or a brush or a brayer and using that to imprint that shape on the piece.


AS: Your current series incorporates minimalist images of houses. What do you hope to inspire in the viewer?

MM: Nostalgia. Maybe a déjà vu feeling like they can’t quite grasp it but maybe have some kind of emotional relationship to those shapes and the shape that a house kind of brings to you. I think I went back to that shape which I’ve used in lots of paintings before from using photographs here and in Door County and then simplifying the buildings down to real minimal light-dark kind of shapes. This way I flattened it out even further and sort of remembering kids’ drawings from when I first was a teacher. I can think of one drawing that I saved that was a little charcoal drawing that a kid did and it sincerely was not many more marks than these and just so refreshing and full of heart and connection to, ‘This is my home but it’s not very perfect.’

“24 Hours” by Mara Manning.

AS: Your childhood included art classes with Tom Seagard, who runs the Meadows Art Gallery in Sister Bay. How did he influence your art?

MM: My mom was an art teacher in Kaukauna and Tom was a teacher there too and they taught together so I’ve known him since I was a little kid. I stop in and see him every once in awhile when I’m up there…I think I was very lucky because we worked with figure drawing and painting even when I was that young, and that it was real expressive and that I’m able to retain that kind of love for mark-making throughout my life.


AS: You have lived many places in your life – Green Bay, Milwaukee, Brooklyn, and now Escanaba, Michigan. How has your environment influenced your art through the years?

MM: My color schemes definitely are currently influenced from my view out my backyard. I live right on the lake so I have big shapes to look at and colors of nature and I think those things really help fuel where I’m going and then when I lived in New York, I used tar in my work, the frames were made out of cold-pressed steel, it was more aggressive. In that way, over time, my work’s become gentler but retains a real integrity of surface and depth.


AS: What might a viewer learn about you through looking at your work?

MM: That I have a quiet sense of humor; that I have a love for painting and for the media that I’m working in; that I have questions that I’m trying to resolve about society, about place by how I explore the shapes and layers in the images.


Cappaert Contemporary Gallery is located at 7901 Hwy. 42 in Egg Harbor. For more information, call 920.868.3987.

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