Dash Manley

Visited yesterday, at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford: New to the Cantor: Dashiell Manley (10/12/16 – 4/24/17). The exhibition is “the museum’s first spotlight presentation focused on an emerging artist” (basic data: born 1983, Fontana CA; holds a BFA from Cal Arts and an MFA from UCLA; lives and works in LA; like Dashiell Hammett, goes by the name Dash):


The artist literally fronting some of his works.

Note on the photograph: carefully posed as artless, with Manley looking straight at us, seriously and thoughtfully, not a challenging gaze, just a hint of a possibly welcoming smile. I assume that someone has looked at photographs of artists and how they’re presented (or present themselves), especially together with their work (certainly there’s literature on portraits and self-portraits of artists).

(You can find a fair number of unposed snapshots of Manley with friends, in most of which he’s smiling. Plus posed photos in which he’s presented much as in #1.)

Note on art as a career. A lot of people seem to think that artists lead a frivolous, easy life, that they are butterflies who don’t really work, just play. This is unimaginably far from my experience with artists and their lives.

Look at Manley. He’s in his early 30s, and his inventory of works (in a great many media, not just watercolor and painting as in the Cantor show; in interviews, Manley sometimes says that he thinks of himself primarily as a film-maker) is gigantic. He’s had tons of shows, in LA, NY, and SF, and all over the world (São Paulo, Sydney, Turin, Vienna, Austin TX). Just the one spacious room at the Cantor has a big (in several senses) assortment of his paintings, each one of which is meticulously crafted; this one room represents a stunning number of work-hours. And then (like many artists) he’s gregarious. Also willing to be interviewed and talk thoughtfully about how he approaches his work (much of which is technically or technologically challenging).

When I walked into the room, my first impression was being immersed in color. The works are deliriously colored, from loving subtle pastels to bold intense hues. Then to look at them close up.

The Cantor’s description of the works on display:

New to the Cantor: Dashiell Manley features selected paintings from three bodies of work. [First set:] Using the newspaper as a starting point with the series The New York Times Paintings, the artist uses watercolor pencil to meticulously transcribe [in informal printing, not replicating newspaper fonts] the front pages of The New York Times across eight-foot canvases [yes, 8-foot, a fact that makes these enormously detailed works almost impossible to reproduce for you here], deftly translating recent events into large-scale, visually stunning art objects that slip enticingly between text and abstract painting. By applying a silver wash over the surface of each work, Manley further obscures the legibility of the text [the silver wash makes these paintings look like they’ve been decorously sprinkled with glitter]. The resulting compositions contain rich layering of letters and colors, with topical terms such as “Ebola” and references to the militants now known as ISIS emerging on the surface. [The background colors tend to match the emotional tones of the stories.]

Manley’s second series in this exhibition, Various sources, moves away from language and turns toward the pictorial mode of comics. Based on appropriated political cartoons from The New Yorker and Charlie Hebdo, these works hold even more potency following the attacks on the latter, Paris-based magazine in January 2015. Distressing events such as these prompted Manley’s reexamination of the project and influenced him to move steadfastly into a purely abstract realm.

The final sequence of work on display, Elegy for whatever, is a stark departure from the previous two series. Using oil paints and a palette knife, Manley builds up the paintings’ surfaces using small, quick strokes [producing a very thick impasto], rendering abstract paintings that operate in an emotional vein. Although these works seem completely devoid of subject matter, certain titles suggest that the artist has never completely removed himself from the language of art history. For example, Elegy for whatever (a haystack lit from the back) alludes to the French painter Claude Monet’s celebrated series Haystacks (1890–91). [I walked up to this one and, before I saw the title, said, “Whoa! Monet haystacks!” An homage to Monet in spirit, not detail; there are no actual haystacks in there, but the painting nevertheless evokes them.]

The first two sets employ a way of presenting visual material I use a lot in my collages: the lines of text and cartoon images (and also the washes of color that accompany the text in Manley’s first set) have no fixed orientation (with my XXX-rated homoerotic collages, I often make little jokes about “no fixed orientation”): the material sometimes faces top-down, sometimes bottom-up, sometimes left-right, sometimes right-left, and all of these orientations are mixed together in a single painting.

Ok, here’s one of the works from the first set, in a reproduction that can give you no real feel for the work:


The New York Times, Monday October 6 2014, national edition Southern California (front page), 2014. Watercolor pencil on canvas.

(I had two reproductions of this painting, one washed-out in color (with respect to the actual work), and this one, over-bright.)

I found no net image of the homage to Monet, but I did find another Manley work in this vein, from a 2016 show “Fused Space” in SF:


Even at this scale, you can begin to appreciate the thickness of the impasto. Better, here’s a bit close up:


Most of these paintings are delicate or joyous in tone (or both), but one of them is solid black (in which you can see what might be Stygian plants).

More from the Cantor’s description, here about the second set, Various sources:

Although Dashiell Manley’s practice takes a particularly contemporary slant, the artist draws on the tradition of using the newspaper as a source of inspiration. Artists have investigated, manipulated and co-opted the newspaper for more than a century. In her exhibition texts, Curator Jennifer Carty references Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s “Manifesto of Futurism,” splayed on the front page of Le Figaro in 1909; clippings from Le Journal featured in early cubist collages by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque; and Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages of the 1950s and ’60s. Manley draws on and extends such explorations in this exhibition, continuing a long tradition of using the newspaper as a form through which to examine language, memory, politics and the conventional materials of art making.

Many of the cartoons in Various sources are recognizable as the work of specific New Yorker and Charley Hebdo artists, though they are of course not faithful reproductions, but Manley’s re-workings of them. So, both familiar and fresh.

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