Wednesday, July 02, 2014


Many talented illustrators develop a style, find an audience, and enjoy a long, successful career catering to that audience.  But there is a special place in my heart for  illustrators who take their initial success and re-invest it in new challenges.  In my view, that's the highest use for success.

In recent years illustration has experienced an epidemic of skillful artists who spend their careers polishing images of barbarians and half-naked women for the insatiable fantasy market.  (Don't make me name these artists-- you know who they are.)

Greg Manchess could easily have joined this prosperous gang.



But Manchess turned out to be a true painter, one with the guts to explore a broader range of artistic challenges.   He ignored the easy formulas for photo-realistic faces and long legged nymphettes, and instead asked harder questions about the epistemology of paint, its texture and its colors.  Such questions made his job more complex, yet these studies of helmets ended up as confident as a clear trumpet blast:

Some contemporary illustrators have done well by repeating variations on pin up girl motifs.  Their creative challenges seem limited to whether the girl will be wearing a black corset or a red corset in the next picture. By contrast, Manchess opens himself up to the full range of issues presented by legitimate figure painting.


By making his next job harder rather than easier,  Manchess continues to mature as a painter at a time when many others are content to rest on successful recipes.

Image courtesy of our friends at Tor Books

 Ralph Waldo Emerson urged young artists and poets not to be content with the "low prudence" of success.  He said, "If ...God have called any of you to explore truth and beauty.... [e]xplore and explore.  Be neither chided nor flattered out of your position of perpetual inquiry."

In his excellent regular column advising art students on how to think about their work, Manchess made a similar point:  "You’ve made some progress at focusing and gaining some attention in the area that you are thrilled to be working in.... That's when you can broaden your scope. That's when you can use that voice to tame other areas of the industry and get them wanting your vision....
Was that so hard? You bet your sweet pumpkin it’s hard. This is Creativity, remember? It doesn’t come all shiny new out of a box." 


MORAN said...

Manchess has incredibly grown as a painter. He never gets stale. He's a great guy also.

Donald Pittenger said...

I don't get to New York often any more, but really lucked out last fall when, on a layover on a flight from Paris, I was able to catch an exhibition of Manchess' work at the Society of Illustrators on East 63rd Street.

You really have to see his paint handling style in person to get the full impact (even though reproductions of it are pretty good these days). In a totally different stylistic way, I find him to be this generation's version of Bernie Fuchs, and download every example of his work I can (like I do with Fuchs).

Anonymous said...

This is a whole new Manchess. Thanks for posting.

David what are the names of the epidemic of bad artists?


kev ferrara said...

Manchess, to me, is one of the very few current artists that could have been competitive in the golden age.

I like these painterly experiments he's been doing. I assume they are designed to appeal to illustration clients outside the fantasy field.

I saw him paint a few years ago at the Society of Illustrators and it was quite a treat. He had transferred a crisp outline/underdrawing onto a gray toned canvas mounted on board. And, with his ref nearby, he painted the painting (of cavaliers in a Tudor town) unremittingly throughout the day. He paused often to think, but I didn't note a single moment of doubt; nothing was changed once the paint landed on the piece, and nothing was significantly rethought from his original conception of the design.

I remember reading an interview with him, maybe 20 years ago, in some newsprint handout given away at comic shops. The quote that always stuck with me was; "Nobody talks about composition anymore."

David Apatoff said...

MORAN-- I agree. There are a lot of temptations for an artist to produce work on an assembly line. It's always a pleasure to come across an artist who believes he still has important decisions ahead of him.

Donald Pittenger-- I missed that show, but I heard it was good. I have seen a couple of Manchess' originals now, and I agree that it adds a lot.

David Apatoff said...

JSL-- You guys are welcome to submit your own candidates. For purposes of my point here, all that's necessary is that people recognize the phenomenon exists. I don't think there's any controversy about that.

Kev Ferrara-- Thanks for the description. I could tell from the result that Manchess is not one of those who slides paint around the canvas hoping for happy accidents. His accents are too strategically placed, his priorities are too thoughtful. I agree with you about the golden age comparison, although I don't know many artists from that era who would have felt free to make some of Manchess' more extreme statements. For example, on the close up of the deep sea diver, those bright red marks that would be so out of place in nature, or the liberties he took with the forms of the fish. Do you think golden age audiences were ready for that?

Unknown said...

That's a great quote at the end there. Good post.

kev ferrara said...

For example, on the close up of the deep sea diver, those bright red marks that would be so out of place in nature, or the liberties he took with the forms of the fish. Do you think golden age audiences were ready for that?

I believe that small piece (5x7) was created for direct auction for a benefit, rather than for an illustration client. Whether such a picture could be the cover, as is, of a pop novel either now or in 1915 is doubtful. (maybe in 1970)

As an interior illustration, I think this would have went over fine in 1915. Guys like Brangwyn, Henry Reuterdahl, Walter Biggs, Leon Gordon, and any number of Pyle's and Dunn's students could be quite abstract in their handling. And since Manchess' drawing is spot on, the Kanevsky-ish radicalism wouldn't have been considered compromising. Remember, by 1900, the first few waves of modernism had been pretty well digested and a great deal of its influence could already be found in the best illustration of the day. I think the novelty of this brushy style would have been appreciated, actually. (And, of course, a lot of illustrations published in the Golden Age were terribly slapdash... looking Kanevsky-ish purely by accident. So the fact that Manchess's piece has integrity would have gratified, I think.)

Donald Pittenger said...

Re Kev: I'm inclined to agree. A hundred years ago, color printing technology for magazines could cover up subtle color-related details (not quite so for book illustrations that got more care). So that factor might affect how we evaluate illustrations from that time.

What is interesting is to see some of the original artwork. Take N.C. Wyeth, Pyle's star student. A number of his 1914-vintage paintings have areas built up from more than one color , Impressionist-style.

And Rockwell. At an exhibit, I noticed bits of something like turquoise blue mixed into skin tones. These touches might or might not have survived the transfer to print even by the 1940s.

Oh, and those helmet studies by Manchess are also small and experimental. It takes a hunk of skill to paint so freely so well.

Anonymous said...

Adam Hughes
Frank Cho
dos Santos


Unknown said...

I am browsing your artwork for a hile,
Have you considered selling your illustrations online ?

We started a small project called,

Campy happer said...

I do not like you, Spam I am.

Richard said...


David Apatoff said...

Conor Hughes-- Yes, I recommend following the link to his column on Muddy Colors. A lot of great advice.

Kev Ferrara-- That sounds right to me.

Donald Pittenger-- I agree. Manchess seems to have a thing for helmets right now, but these studies really seem to pay off.

JSL-- I won't comment on specific names, but I could make a list four times as long.

David Apatoff said...

Fabien Dormoy-- I try to eliminate comments from robots, but have been away for a few days. Since people have had some fun responding, I'll leave this up.

Anonymous and Cory Hinman-- Yeah, well, you can't take this kind of thing too seriously. Some day before I close this thing down I'll do a "greatest hits" of spam.

Richard-- Yes, he's pretty impressive, isn't he? It's nice to see what a difference backbone and integrity can make.

Richard said...

I'm always impressed, when you put up guys who can realistically draw/paint, but this is one of the first times it's made me say "Boy! I want to do that too!" ^^

Unknown said...

Manchess is one of my favorite painters of the last 15 years or so, easily. You are right, he continues to experiment, to distill, to hone down to what counts. His sketches are a real learning experience. Missed seeing this blog, David..moved and lost the link…and got lazy, I guess. Glad to be back!