William Manning opens four-decade retrospective

William Manning, one of Maine’s leading abstract artists, shows more than four decades’ worth of works on paper at the Bates College Museum of Art in an exhibition that opens with a lecture and reception at 7 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10. Admission to “William Manning: Works on Paper 1961-2002″ is free and the public is welcome at the museum located in the college’s Olin Arts Center, 75 Russell St.

“The work of William Manning, rich in imagination and associations, defies easy categorization in terms of subject matter, style or even medium,” Kenneth Wayne writes in the exhibition catalog. (Wayne is the curator of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, in Buffalo, N.Y.). Indeed, Manning has experimented constantly with medium and approach, even turning to such concepts as three-dimensional paintings in his pursuit of a richer painted image.

Manning cites Cubism and Abstract Expressionism as important influences on a style that transcends both. In the former, he found both the collage technique pioneered by Picasso and Braque and the freedom to divorce his images from objective nature. As Manning told Wayne, he seeks to render not what he sees but what he feels.

From the Abstract Expressionists, Manning synthesized the two dominant directions, Wayne explains in his catalog essay: the color planes explored by such painters as Mark Rothko and the gestural approach of people like Jackson Pollock. For Manning, Wayne writes, each of these “gives a different effect: the color planes convey depth, contemplation and spirituality, while the gestural movements display spontaneity, movement and action.” Similarly, Manning has mastered the difficult process of harmonizing organic and geometric elements.

Manning is a Maine artist throughout. Except for a brief interlude in New York, he has always lived here: He was born in Lewiston in 1936, studied and then taught at what is now the Maine College of Art and today resides in Portland. Maine’s natural setting is central to his work. Every autumn Manning spends several weeks on the island of Monhegan, and it is the works on paper created during these visits that inform his paintings.

It’s also the works on paper, of course, that constitute the Bates College Museum of Art exhibit. Including drawings, collages, paintings and mixtures of media, the 37 works demonstrate Manning’s progress over 40-plus years from minimalism and a vestigial realism to today’s robust colors and evocative imagery.

“Everything about Manning’s work is subtle and delicate,” Wayne writes. “All of the works are intimate and personal in scale.”

“William Manning: Works on Paper 1961-2002″ runs in the Bates College Museum of Art’s Upper Gallery through March 21. Opening concurrently and running through Feb. 28 in the Lower Gallery is an exhibition of photographic portraits of noted Maine artist Marsden Hartley made by photographer George Platt Lynes. For more information, please call 207-786-6158.

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