Michael Manningís Contradictions: Invigorating Painting with Universal Meaning for the 21st Century by L.P. Streitfeld
With the world in crisis, it is rare to find a painter who dares enter the collective unconscious to explore a solution. Yet, this is precisely the monumental task that Michael Manning set for himself in Contradictions.
During the change of millennium Manning developed the spontaneous marriage of right/left brain through collaborative painting sessions with two German Abstract Expressionists. His unique signature filters the objective/subjective contradiction through major 20th century movements: the Cezanne patches; Action Painting; Pollock drips; Feminist process and Neo-Expressionist mythmaking prioritizing unconscious symbolism in the manner of Jean-Michel Basquiat.
The series is both a continuation and response to the painterís 2004 Long Live the King: The Gilgamesh Series that balanced the opposing forces of nature and civilization through the characters of Gilgamesh and his shadow companion, Enkidu. This first heroís journey in world literature reflects the shift in cosmology to patriarchy. After rejecting the advances of the love goddess, Gilgamesh embarks on an adventure of male bonding to meet the survivor of a world flood and learn the secret of everlasting youth.
Contradictions has an overt political and social message for our time; it is the task of the artist today to bring outer imbalance into an internal marriage. Manning has loosened up his style, refining his use of symbols and wordplay for an economy of narrative orientated towards this goal. Each painting is self-contained, yet linked to the whole, like stanzas in an epic poem.
The narrative begins and ends with The Bishop, presented in the guise of jester, or archetype of the Fool, who stands for the artist himself in his innocence of the treacherous journey of self-discovery. This central portrait contains the goal of the series - to merge the contradictions of painting and life into an interconnected holism reflecting a new paradigm. The progression through this narrative is both circular and linear. It tracks the emergence of Woman unbound from patriarchal adulation (Holy Mary splattered in red, the color of her once repressed eroticism) and subjugation (the bound female limbs of Good Soldiers of the Congo) so she may be free to embrace her spiritual image (Fun with Jane and Jane).
The sign of rebirth can be found in the flower blooming out of the bullís eye stamped carcass of Sooner or Later, Godís Going to Cut You Down. The Gilgamesh image returns in This Way to Heaven, but the passage is a fetal position suggesting rebirth. After this gestation comes Whatís Next with its emerging Self as detached observer to its own birth process; this reveals a resolution to the divided composition of Monk-Monk in which expresses the human bewilderment to the collapse of the quantum wave.
This brings us to The Good Mother in birth position on a pink pedestal. Bring Back the Flood reveals a funeral of sorts, with a black man held by hands emerging from the wave under the symbols of money, politics and religion to be re-valued in faithfulness with the spiral of life. Eye for an Eye consists of two archaic men in profile, a floating eye revealing the higher consciousness of the universal mind as a fact of human evolution.
The paradigm leap from linear to cyclical time is reflected in the return to the chaos of body dismemberment in Me, Me, Me. This leads us to an official sanction of authority of Mr. Jefferson with its red rectangle around the painting parameter. This sacred marriage of opposites is envisioned with Reach and Preach, a reinterpretation of religion to equalize the sexes in the sacred matter of ordinary life. A newfound religious order brings us right back to The Bishop, stamped with the foot of the hero and stained with the invigorating spirit of rebirth.
In sum, Contradictions remedies the imbalance of the past through a visual banquet that begins and ends in a spiraling cycle of ever increasing consciousness. This present day revival of the myth of Eternal Return gives new meaning to the late 20th century refrain regarding the death of painting. Indeed, Manning has regenerated his medium with universal meaning for the 21st century.