Gre­gory Manchess

“Ref­er­ence pre­pared for th­ese fig­ures to­day? Wham! Punch out a dozen” Gre­gory speed-paints a crowd

ImagineFX - - Contents - Nick Car­son

G re­gory Manchess started his ca­reer as a stu­dio-based il­lus­tra­tor, which in­stilled ver­sa­til­ity by ne­ces­sity: “We needed to be ac­com­plished at what­ever was put in front of us,” he says. “I’ve worked in wa­ter­colour, pas­tels, acrylics, air­brush, gouache…. The style and con­cepts are my own, the medium is merely the trans­fer process.”

He has a par­tic­u­lar flair for fig­u­ra­tive work, tread­ing the line be­tween com­pelling re­al­ism and stylised, painterly tech­nique. Ul­ti­mately, he says, the bet­ter your un­der­stand­ing of the hu­man form as an artist, the eas­ier it is to ex­press it in an un­der­stated way.

“Ac­cu­racy isn’t nec­es­sar­ily im­por­tant, as long as the ex­pres­sion of the form suc­ceeds in de­scrib­ing it to the

viewer,” says Gre­gory. “Once one has learned a lot about cap­tur­ing a fig­ure well, it’s much eas­ier and fas­ci­nat­ing to push and pull the ex­pres­sion to de­pict a feel­ing.”

Cre­at­ing that mean­ing­ful emo­tional con­nec­tion with the viewer is crit­i­cal to his work: a sim­ple goal that, the artist ad­mits, has taken decades to mas­ter. “A paint­ing is a still mo­ment, but a per­cep­tion of move­ment cre­ates cu­rios­ity in the viewer’s mind, and can hold them in that mo­ment,” Gre­gory says. “And the viewer brings their own in­for­ma­tion to the can­vas.”

As view­ers, fa­mil­iar­ity with dif­fer­ent hu­man pos­tures, move­ments and ex­pres­sions – drawn from our own life ex­pe­ri­ences – feed into that mo­ment, and pro­vide a vis­ual short­hand to help us make that emo­tional con­nec­tion.

hu­man his­tory

“Body lan­guage projects at­ti­tudes and emo­tions,” adds Gre­gory. “It’s like de­tect­ing dan­ger in the en­vi­ron­ment around us. It’s a prim­i­tive as­pect that we’ve learned over thou­sands of years. If we know how th­ese things work for the brain, we can use them to en­gage the viewer.”

While fig­u­ra­tive work is his forte, he believes much of the skill of cre­at­ing that all-im­por­tant ’mo­ment’ comes down to the wider com­po­si­tion of the piece – cre­at­ing ten­sion across the can­vas. “This is achieved by care­ful study of how a frame is di­vided up: left to right, top to bot­tom, fore­ground to back­ground,” he ex­plains. “An artist can tap into the ba­sic knowl­edge of how a viewer looks at a paint­ing. They al­ready un­der­stand in­tu­itively what vis­ual space rep­re­sents.” Clients such as the Na­tional Geo­graphic So­ci­ety and the His­tory Chan­nel have also en­abled Gre­gory to in­dulge his love of his­tory, and again it’s a bal­anc­ing act be­tween ac­cu­racy and cre­ative in­ter­pre­ta­tion. “Our job as

artists is to in­spire in the viewer the cu­rios­ity to learn more; to hold them in the mo­ment, and fas­ci­nate them. That goes beyond cor­rect in­for­ma­tion. Ac­cu­racy is im­por­tant, but is it more im­por­tant to de­pict ex­actly how a cos­tume looks, if the char­ac­ter wear­ing it doesn’t in­spire you? If all the rig­ging is cor­rect in a ship paint­ing, but the mo­tion of the ves­sel fails to in­cite more study, then how com­pelling is that?”

He may love his­tory, but for Gre­gory large swathes of the past decade have been ded­i­cated to imag­in­ing an al­ter­nate fu­ture for Above The Tim­ber­line, his am­bi­tious book set in a harsh, frozen land­scape.

pas­sive po­lar bears

“I did a cou­ple of thumb­nails, pic­tur­ing a guy head­ing up a moun­tain, and re­alised that he needed pack an­i­mals for his gear,” Gre­gory re­calls of the project that first gave him the idea. “Po­lar bears pro­vided that, even though they would likely have eaten him. So that was the anom­aly, and spark of cu­rios­ity that I re­quired for the im­age.”

De­pict­ing just the right amount of ten­sion in the scene was cru­cial. The bears were still fe­ro­cious wild an­i­mals, so it was im­por­tant not to de­pict them as overly friendly or cud­dly. “Once the paint­ing was fin­ished, it cre­ated so much cu­rios­ity that friends were prac­ti­cally de­mand­ing to know why I had painted it. Who is that guy? Where’s he go­ing? Why? So I sat down and drew a few more thumb­nails, and then started to write.”

Gre­gory ini­tially worked on Above The Tim­ber­line for three years, some­times daily. Af­ter at­tract­ing in­ter­est from a lit­er­ary agent, it took an­other two years to sell the con­cept, then an­other two to re­fine and fin­ish it. Stay­ing fo­cused through­out such an in­cred­i­bly labour-ex­ten­sive and de­mand­ing project re­quired an in­cred­i­ble amount of self-dis­ci­pline.

“Awake, eat, re­search, plan, sketch, paint, rest, eat, paint again, sleep,” he chuck­les. “Next day, all over again. When I started, I pan­icked and knocked out 49 pieces in three months. Two weeks later I stalled a

Our job as artists is to in­spire in the viewer the cu­rios­ity to learn more; to hold them in the mo­ment

bit, be­cause I needed to fo­cus on some com­pli­cated im­ages.”

Gre­gory’s pace slowed, and the dead­line looked wor­ry­ingly close, so he tried a rad­i­cal so­lu­tion: work­ing on 23 paint­ings at once. “They were pinned to the walls around me, and each day I chose which parts to fin­ish,” he re­calls. “Feel­ing good about skies to­day? Pow! Knock out four of them. Ref­er­ence pre­pared for th­ese fig­ures to­day? Wham! Punch out a dozen.”

the app eal of snow

Snow has al­ways fas­ci­nated him, and as Gre­gory hit the fi­nal in­ten­sive strait, it started find­ing its way into his dreams as well as his paint­ing. “Snow looks dif­fer­ent in dif­fer­ent types of light, and it turns the en­vi­ron­ment into in­stant graphic ap­peal,” he says. “A beau­ti­ful moun­tain paint­ing is sud­denly graph­i­cally pow­er­ful when a swatch of snow graces one of its faces.”

Nev­er­the­less, de­spite 124 paint­ings set in a snow-cov­ered land­scape, he very rarely painted it ac­tu­ally snow­ing. Again, the viewer’s prior ex­pe­ri­ence comes into play: “We un­der­stand dif­fer­ent light­ing con­di­tions: over­cast clouds about to rain, or snow; sun­light af­ter the rain. If we can cap­ture those light­ing con­di­tions in the paint, then the viewer feels it.”

All the paint­ings be­gan life as tiny rec­tan­gu­lar sketches on a piece of bond paper, with a vis­ual through-line: “It was like stack­ing pan­els from a graphic novel, but aligned hor­i­zon­tally across the page,” he ex­plains. “From there came di­a­logue and char­ac­ter. Re­ar­range im­ages; more di­a­logue; less de­scrip­tion; draw­ing for im­pact; cap­tur­ing a mo­ment; driv­ing a nar­ra­tive vis­ually… I loved the process of build­ing it.”

For Gre­gory, the dis­ci­pline of rep­e­ti­tion was an in­valu­able tool for de­vel­op­ing his tech­nique, and it’s some­thing he’d rec­om­mend to any fel­low artist. “I learned so much about how I build an im­age,” he says. “Re­peat­ing a process over 124 paint­ings can bring re­al­i­sa­tion rush­ing to mind about how one works.”

And he con­cludes: “There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween that and sim­ple prac­tice. Prac­tice is just re­peat­ing; fo­cused rep­e­ti­tion is growth.”

A beau­ti­ful moun­tain paint­ing is sud­denly graph­i­cally pow­er­ful when a swatch of snow graces one of its faces

20,000 Leagues: The Har­vest Part of a show at Gal­lerie Daniel Maghen, 2014, this evoca­tive un­der­wa­ter paint­ing was based on the clas­sic Jules Verne novel. capt ain mor­gan “The client needed to re­vamp the paint­ing of the Cap­tain, and had seen my Nat Geo­graphic work, but didn’t know it was me,” says Gre­gory.

Air­ship An­other il­lus­tra­tion from Above The Tim­ber­line, this es­tab­lish­ing shot was based on ref­er­ences of ac­tual air­ships, but “slightly over-built”, as Gre­gory puts it.

Snow att ack An­other paint­ing from Above The Tim­ber­line, de­pict­ing one of po­lar bears that sparked off the idea for Gre­gory’s book in the first place. Con­quer­ing Sword of Co­nan “I wanted a Co­nan that was more lithe and pan­ther-like, as Howard ac­tu­ally wrote about him in the sto­ries,” says Gre­gory.

Above The Tim­ber­line (cover) More than seven years in the mak­ing, Gre­gory’s labour of love was fi­nally re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2017, and fea­tures a stag­ger­ing 124 full-colour paint­ings.

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