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Monday, May 3, 2010

Speakeasy with Michael K. Manning

click to enlarge "Help Us Help You," Michael K. Manning, pastel and acrylic on paper
  • "Help Us Help You," Michael K. Manning, pastel and acrylic on paper

Atlanta artist Michael K. Manning has little in common with the bicycle-seeking Pee Wee Herman, the dog-doo eating Divine or the daydreaming bureaucrat Sam Lowry. Nevertheless, Manning’s “Pop Surrealist” artwork has intersected with Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, John Waters’ Pink Flamingos and, as of May 4, Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, through his shows at the Plaza Theatre’s monthly Art Opening and a Movie series. Manning, 32, grew up in Macon, Ga., and talks about his movie-inspired work. After this show, Manning plans to travel the country by bus and take inspiration from the people and places he sees along the way.

Brazil is one of my favorite movies. How did you choose it?

The movie was suggested by Plaza Theatre owner, Gayle Rej, probably six months ago. She's pretty familiar with my work, and I agreed that it was a fabulous choice. To me the most interesting thing about Brazil is the coping mechanism of withdrawing into a personal fantasy world by Sam. This is the third Art Opening and a Movie I have done solo, with the other movies being Pee-wee's Big Adventure, and Pink Flamingos. So I suppose you could say that there has been a loosely running theme of protagonists who occupy their own strange worlds.

When you’re preparing for one of these shows, do you re-watch the original movie?

Usually when I am working on pieces for the show I have the movie going on in the background looping -- they probably ran 50 times each before the show! I can't say that it yields any concrete results, but it does get me in the mood, so to speak.

How many pieces will you have in this show?

The show should have about 15 pieces. Some of them are hand done re-creations of the propaganda posters from the background of the film, while some of the others may relate to the film in a more indirect, conceptual way. I never did do any images of Divine or Pee-wee in my previous shows.

What’s your perspective on the film’s politics? Brazil can be viewed as a leftist critique of any monolithic, totalitarian system, and in recent years conservatives and libertarians have embraced it as an attack on Big Government.

Of course I also approve of the anti-bureaucratic and anti-totalitarian themes of the movie, and I definitely like the way that the topics are treated with a sense of humor, as I try to be humorous in my own work. If libertarians and conservatives have applauded it as well recently, that doesn't necessarily turn me off, I think that good art can speak to people from varied political backgrounds.

Do you have a particular style that you bring to your film-related artwork?

I have a tendency to jump around stylistically, utilizing many different media, from pastels to color pencil, oil painting, charcoal, collage, and found objects. It may seem like a kitchen sink aesthetic, but usually I come up with an idea for a piece and then decide what style would fit the idea best. I never have focused on any particular media for any of the shows, and I really like for my solo shows to have the feel of a group show. It's probably just an artistic attention deficit on my part. I just find looking at the same style over and over to be tiresome.

Had you done film-related art before doing the Plaza shows?

I can't say that I did any movie related artwork before doing shows at the Plaza. I was always influenced by popular culture, but didn't really specifically relate my work to movies. From the start I was always excited about working with the Plaza, because I find the idea of gallery shows to be really boring usually, and I liked the idea of linking a show to something fun that would perhaps expose my work to a crowd that did not typically go to art shows. I've always had shows in non-traditional venues, most of which are now defunct: Nomenclature, (an old nightclub on 12th) Innovox, (old coffee in Ponce Kroger shopping center) Radial Cafe, IAG. (music and art venue/collective on Memorial) The only real gallery I've shown at is the MINT Gallery, which itself is a non-traditional, community based gallery.

Art Opening and a Movie. 8 p.m., Tues., May 4. Plaza Theatre, 1049 Ponce De Leon Ave., $8-$12. 404-873-1939. www.plazaatlanta.com

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