May 31, 2012

manifest gallery cincinnati

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                         she the lamb

     The oldest known drawing of a human face is over twenty-seven thousand years old.  It's a simple series of marks, in a cave near Angoulême in western France.  It's drawn on a rocky abutment, which is shaped like a human skull.  Its age places it before the inception of language.  In other words, we had art before we could even describe it to each other.  Why then, once the grunting and groaning had given way to consonants, vowels, words, and ideas, loquaciously expressed, did we continue to seek out and to refine a visual expression of our lives?  What is this quality which uniquely compels the human animal to gather experiences, and to then reassemble them using our own personal, creative, vision?

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                making special

     The Darwinian impulse would tell us that it is to gain a sexual advantage in natural selection...that we are instinctively compelled to create representations of beauty in the quest for a mate.  In the latter half of the twentieth century, however, this idea was spun in an opposing direction as the definition of art transitioned from the perspective of the intended audience (the sought after mate in the Darwinian school of thought), to that of the artist.  People began to ask, what is the act of art?   If we had a verb, arting, what action would it be describing, and, why are we doing it?  Noted, independent scholar and author, Ellen Dissanayake is credited with providing us with a succinct, sublime answer: we have a biological need for making special.
photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                 tradition
     Making special: to render the ordinary, unique, with the physical manifestation of your own, distinct perception.  You lift the garage door one night, flip the fluorescent light and walk to the workbench.  You raise your framing hammer, its familiar, smooth, wooden handle turning in your hand.  You are seized with an idea and you spend the next few hours carving and staining the image of a pine tree along the length of the handle.  You are making special.  One day, you awaken early and journey to the river's edge.  With a shovel and a bucket, you unearth mounds of clay and cart it to a nearby clearing in a woods.  With the clay, you mold a bird bath using only your bare hands.  You leave it in the forest, for no one in particular, save the sparrows.  You are making special.     
photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                           being alive

      We all have this inside, this need to express without words, this need to make special, but for many of us it becomes obscured, wrapped in layers of the world, in the epic tragedies and mundane details of our lives.  Eventually it may seem as though it never existed in us at all, that making art is for someone else, for some, other, more qualified group of people who were born with something which we lack.  But, that is shit.  For every person, there is a relationship between creativity and well-being, between the conceiving of an idea, the physical manifestation of it, and health.  This process of arting is how we unburden ourselves, it is how we tell ourselves that we exist and matter, that we belong, that we have something worthwhile to impart to the world.  There are a lot of hurdles to keeping this channel from ourselves open.  Thankfully, we have wonderful places, such as Manifest, to help.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                 miracles are here
     Manifest is a trinity dedicated to visual art.  Founded in 2004, by Jason Franz,  Elizabeth Kauffman, and Brigid O'Kane, its purpose is to present and document highly skilled, professional art from around the world, while simultaneously engendering a spirit of education and creativity at a local level.  It's a world class gallery and a local art studio, all at once.  Manifest maintains this dichotomy by operating as several distinct, but interconnected entities.  The gallery, in East Walnut Hills, serves as the hub, offering regular displays of thought provoking art, from local, national, and international artists.  The drawing studio, in Madisonville, explores the art of drawing through educational activities and open drawing sessions.  Lastly, Manifest Press collaborates with artists and students to make available, well designed publications, featuring art from Manifest events, such as international, juried competitions in drawing, painting, and photography, held annually.

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                                 energy

     Tim Parsley is Assistant Director at Manifest and serves as coordinator for the drawing center.  As are all of the instructors at the drawing center, Tim is, himself, an accomplished professional artist.  I recently had a chance to visit the studio for a figure drawing session and to talk to Tim.  There is a collaborative sense of intention and empathy here, is how he began to describe the studio drawing experience.  It's a collective, relaxed battle of pursuit.  The drawing center exists for anyone who is serious about elevating his or her level of skill.  Your current abilities don't really matter.  What counts is your intent...your seriousness and dedication to improvement.  You have to have a passion and a love for what you are doing, Tim told me.  We know that everyone goes through a lot of bad drawings just to get one good one, but what we have found is that there is a contagious energy here which really inspires people and it shows in their work.           
photo by steve metz                                                              anatomy of a drawing

     As the model struck her first pose, on this particular evening, a determined calm enveloped the room.  This was a communion.   I roamed the room with my camera and I thought about what I was seeing with my eyes, my lens, my heartbeat, my own self.  There's an intrinsic strength in a circle, an unbroken unified, simple purpose: roundness, every point equal.  Lose one point, lose the circle.  That's how they draw at the round, each artist closely bound to the next, each giving strength and being given strength, each teaching and being taught, through the simple act of participation.  They reverentially face the center.  The model is the muse, she, naked, vulnerable, willing in servitude, the lamb, the alter.  The artists too are unclothed in their own way, unborn, a blank sheet before them. An undefinition waiting to be defined, an unwriting waiting to be written.  She the lamb relaxes, supine, her secrets now whispered to the congregants.  They, weapons now drawn, strike the page and imagine their way into being.          
photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                               ceremony

     We people, we fail collectively at a lot of important things.  We can't keep each other fed.  We can't figure out a way to do something as basic as not massacring each other.  We can't protect cherished species of animals before they perish forever.   We can't find a way to place the common good of all people above the obscene greed of a few.  We break these fundamental commandments of brotherhood. The world starts to seem insane.  Being human starts to seem untenable.  But then there is art.  When I look at a Michael Wilson photograph or a Casey Riordan Millard painting, and I realize that it wasn't some otherworldly, specially ordained being who made them, but rather a neighbor, a mother, a son, a teacher, or a child...a person just like gives me a sense of hope that I can't find elsewhere.  Art is all of ours, just like Jason, Tim, and all of the other artists, students, and publishers from Manifest, are demonstrating.  It is a personal journey, yet each time we take it, we make a link: from our household to our street, our street to our neighborhood, our neighborhood to our city, extending out into the world, a tide of calm on a throbbing sea. Together, we made an El Greco, a Rodin, a Mapplethorpe.  It began in an ancestral cave.  It will end with the last breath of humanity, and each and every time any one of us makes something special, we are tipping the scales a little, in favor of sanity.  

photo by steve metz                                                                                                                                                     made manifest


  1. nice. I'd like the last photo in my room. gorgeous...all of them are, really. c

  2. Beautifully written, and beautifully shot :) Thanks for sharing!

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