(above, Michelle Manley, Heightened Alert I, acrylic on board, 30 x 30)
Recently I had the opportunity to meet up with artist Michelle Manley at her Lower East Side studio. I've been intrigued by her work for a while, after she first came to my attention last fall. To me her paintings not only conjure up the horrors of natural disaster scenarios, but at their core lies a comprehensive understanding of the futility of the ongoing battle of man vs. nature.
Can it be that lightning only strikes once? In this case, highly unlikely, because Manley electrifies with each new work unveiled. Above is Dynamo. With the juxtaposition of brilliant blue sky set against an unwitting pastoral landscape, the viewer is left unsettled, as if staring at a scene that hasn't quite yet taken place, but is familiar nonetheless. The golden bolt of light flashing down upon the tree line has a subtle purple halo, which catches the eye with popping color, as well as serves a reminder of what might come after the storm-- from darkness, into light.
Manley has a deft approach to her paintings. Starting with dramatic images she finds of weather anomalies -- ones perhaps taken by the Stormchasers themselves-- she then tweaks them to just a little bit skewed. The artist utilizes Photoshop to create scenes of a vastly disjointed nature. Where once laid a river, or farmland under the funnel clouds, now lies a two-lane country road, which seems to not want to know what's further down the journey. Take a closer look at the shaky painted line of the road's shoulder.
Manley also utilizes a heightened alert color-coding in honor of the famed Homeland Security Advisory System. Looking into the sinnous outlines of the cloud formations, subtle touches of reds, oranges, and magentas stir amongst greys and charcoals, adding fuel to the fire. Red seems to refer to an F5; orange, F4; pastel pink maybe an F2. Vortexes shift to and fro throughout Manley's works, targeting their innocent victims with a haphazard motion that spares none in its path. Roadways that weren't there before suddenly appear, then disappear, into the belly of the beast. The work at left above seems not to be made from the heavens above, but the bowels of hell; its gaping mouth gobbling up everything in its path.
In Severance, Manley imagines three tiny barns set upon virgin farmland that have ingeniously been given their own twister of liking. As they say, "A chicken in every pot." In Manley's case, for every unsuspecting Dorothy there will be a 2x4 to impail. I enjoyed this scene immensely because it reminds me of the marshland and horse farms north of Boston in Newburyport. The twisters seem to be a focal reference point to the day of final judgment-- punishing the Brahmins for the sins of their Puritanical past.
Manley's work can currently be seen through April 8th in a group show celebrating women's history at Soho Creative NY at 73 Warren Street in Tribeca. Click here for directions.