Without sounding like a PSA for the obvious importance of art making as a part of everyone’s student/youth experience, The Independent set out to peek into the backstory of 23-year-old Lafayette native Connor McManus — bold, successful, ambitious painter, artist and graphic designer now living in New Orleans.
IND: Tell us how you got your start.
My parents kept my brother, Michael, and me well stocked with sketchbooks, pencils, pastel, and markers. They were one of those things we just had to pack on vacations, like socks and our toothbrushes. My mom was my fi rst teacher; teaching us was her way of reconnecting with that path untaken and passing it on to us as our own possibility.
Fast forward. The single biggest push I had was at Interlochen Arts Camp the summer after ninth grade. Eight hours of art a day. I took printmaking, sculpture and painting. The teachers were college professors; it was like a miniature college but with a more rigid schedule. There was a thick creative atmosphere and endless discussions about music and art.
Kathy Reed of the Lafayette High School Arts Academy was the most influential art teacher I’ve had, college included. When it comes to formal composition, it’s still her voice in my ear reminding me of the “Elements of Art” and the “Principles of Design.”
During my last two years at Brown, I was packing in my second major — urban studies — alongside my art thesis. Meanwhile I spent all my spare time on my computer making samplebased music. All of these things crosspollinated. It came down to the same principles for me: balance, rhythm, harmony and melody.
IND: Let’s talk about the way you blend architectural or rectilinear line with the organic. There is a synergy there that is quite appealing.
Organic forms vs rectilinear forms was a dichotomy that is mentioned a lot in art classes. And it’s also one of the basic tensions in urbanism/suburbanism. After some thought I came to the conclusion that cities are like spider webs or ant hills, as natural to us as a bird’s nest is to a bird. But we all know that a city street with no trees is harsh and menacing — a natural-looking street has a balance of complementary forms.
IND: I especially appreciate the hyper photorealism in the portrait of the figures in the tree. There’s been a strong movement toward hyper photorealism.
That is a sticky question. On the one hand I’ve always felt that a medium should be allowed to express itself. Why paint a perfect copy of a photograph when photographs are already perfect copies? Then again, hyper photorealism is something that I think everyone, including myself, finds pretty astonishingly impressive. As it happens my brother, Michael, does hyperphotorealistic drawings and paintings. There is definitely an art to making something both photo-realistically perfect while also imbuing it with a glow that the original photograph couldn’t possibly have.
IND: There’s a significant gestural quality in your landscapes, in your less figurative graphic pieces, and in your Rorschach-inspired paintings. Is there anything you would like to say about the movement of line in shape that you manage very well?
The Rorschachs are a way for me to have a completely physical relationship with painting, and one where I am not in total control. For these paintings I get to choose the colors, but otherwise their success or failure lie in a few crucial moments. Sometimes this process takes me to a meditative place where decisions happen, and movement happens, and results happen, but I’m as much along for the ride as I am the driver.
IND: Does drawing complement your graphics and paintings in the traditional sense? Or do you see it as a style of its own?
I do see it as a style on its own. My drawing style is very different from my painting style, and more personal to me. When I draw now, I draw still lives of my living space, and my cats, or my girlfriend reading. I only rarely draw like this; it’s a great exercise though. I notice so many more details and textures and shapes around me after drawing like that. The world becomes more vivid.
IND: Was there an evolution of mediums before you found your niche?
Oh yeah, I experimented with a lot of things. I’ve done prints and sculptures, collagraphs made of found objects ... And even now that I have a few standardized avenues that have been working for me, I’m still looking for new mediums to use, or slightly different ways to tweak it.
View a photo gallery of his work here.
Connor McManus is represented by Jeffery McCullough Art and Design Consulting. For more on his work, visit www.connormcmanus.com.