Brett Manning Interview
I sat down with Brett Manning last week to have a quick talk about her art practice and work in general. Her show “Warmness” opens Friday, July 6th at One Strange Bird (2515 W. North Ave Chicago, Il) Her work, technically awe inspiring and contemporary at the same time, address themes of universality, the relationship between humans and animals, and pattern and decoration.
Brett originally went to school to study fashion at The Illinois Institute of Art. She started to focus more on drawing and illustration after becoming slightly disillusioned by the fashion world. This original fascination with fashion still shows through in her portraits.
This interview starts after a quick discussion about our similar upbringings in Southern Illinois. Both coming from small towns and being slightly artistic, I wondered if she was as angry as I was as a teen:
Were you an angry teenager?
No… I was always very passive didn’t really care about anything and always kind of did my own thing.
How old were you when you finally left Springfield?
Were you drawing constantly when you were really little too?
Yes. I’ve always drawn lots of animals. Lots of animals when I was younger then I started doing more self-portrait-y type things in college.
So do you think your interest in fashion comes through in your fine art too?
Somewhat. I use a lot of the same materials as when I was illustrating in college.
What are those [materials]?
Ink and watercolor but I use gouache more than watercolor… colored pencil, which I don’t really use as often any more. I’ve also just been adding acrylic to some things I
So is the original larger or do you work pretty small?
How big is that one, like 12 x 16 I think
So pretty small
Yeah all my work is relatively small
Your work is really intimate, even those little animals (Brett’s Jewelry) they’re so detailed. When I look at this I can see someone’s interests in textiles and then also mystical and mythical themes.
Can you talk about fantasy and mysticism and human and animal relationships [in your work]?
Yeah, it’s just an appreciation for all living things. A lot of the times the animals or the plants are just as much of an importance as the actual portrait and the patterns are kind of the same way. I like to think about fractals and how things are on a really small scale and just kind of bring it all together with a recognizable portrait or something just organic and graceful forms.
So who are the people in your drawings?
Some of them are real people, that one was a commission of a girl (points to a digital photo)
She didn’t like it. She said her head was too elongated, and I was offended so I posted it on my Facebook page and asked, “What do you guys think? Does she have a long head?” and my friends responded, “this girl is crazy looks, it looks fine!” and I [said] thanks I kind of liked it.
So some of them are real people some of them are celebrities right?
Yeah, some of them are just blends of what I want people to be I guess or (what people are) in my dreams.
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot about archetypal imagery when I look at your work. For example, this long braid, an egg, and a shell, which are all loaded with different historical influences.
They’re all pretty universal images too. I feel a lot of people can relate to and that’s why I like to use that kind of imagery.
I think that’s what sets your work apart from other people that make fantastical imagery. There is something about your work that makes it really fresh and contemporary. I think has to do with your interest in fashion and pattern. Your colors are really beautiful.
Do you work from reference images or just your imagination?
Both. I do take a lot of reference photos (whether or not I use them) or I tweak them too. Sometimes I collage different photos together, so maybe if somebody’s arm is in a weird position I can cut out a different arm.
And, put it on?
Yes. Sometimes my figures might look a little awkward because of that but I think that is it funny. (They are) more geometric (than organic).
Yes, but they also don’t seem digital in any way, which I love. They don’t seem overly photographic either.
I don’t like hyper-realism. It’s great that people can do that, that’s awesome. For me, I’d rather take a really interesting photo if I want it to look super realistic.
With that being said, you are definitely an excellent craftsmen and technically skilled as well. How important is that to you? Are you more interested in technical skill verses conceptual skills?
I carry around a little journal and when I have an idea of something, I just sketch it out. I think that’s the more conceptual part (but) it’s more spontaneous. If I can remember things like that, and just go through my journal and pick out things that I like at the time, I base a drawing around these little sketches that I made. I draft it out more, I do the whole sketch of it first and it just goes really slowly when I start inking it. Since it is so slow I can add or take away whatever I want.
What are the different mediums that you work in?
Graphite, ink, and ink wash are probably the main things that I work with but I also sometimes use acrylic. I’ve been using thread in some things but I haven’t gotten very far with it. I know in time if I spend a lot of time on it I can do something pretty interesting.
What about the photography and jewelry?
Those are just more like hobbies that I really enjoy doing and have been taking more seriously because other people seem to enjoy and encourage me to do something more even extreme the next time I take this picture. I dunno its fun.