BY CORINNE PULSINELLE

Southern New Hampshire native Darren McManus is not only the sole artist in his family, but also the first to develop his talents at a rigorous collegiate level.With ample support but little art related guidance, McManus followed his intuition and enrolled in Hartford Art School in Connecticut.According to him, “I had to make a choice between athletics and art.I chose to go into art because technically I can make it until my faculties are gone.”

McManus enrolled himself as a double major to make the most of his time spent earning a bfa degree.He found a balance between the principles and discipline of Graphic Design, and the explorative fail-proof nature of Experimental Studio.McManus felt driven to make loud paintings that would often turn into installations and sculptures.The work McManus made in these fundamental years fits perfectly into a chronological description of his projects.In his words, “At the time I was making paintings along with full environments that always had fantastical and spiritual overtones.”

In the years following his completion of bfa coursework, McManus worked as a commercial artist and a graphic designer.He worked for a magazine, began a ‘.com’ and spent his spare time making personal work.With real world experience, McManus dove back into the constructive atmosphere of classroom critique. He was accepted into the uniquely small graduate level program at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield, Michigan where he was challenged to define himself as an artist.

At the graduate level, it is not enough for an artist to be able to craft expert level work and demonstrate a mastery over their chosen media. McManus notes that he entered the program naive in terms of being able to take on a specific angle with his work.In order to do so, he was confronted with the challenge of educating himself on context and what other professional artists were making.Where was his work coming from and who were his influences? In retrospect, McManus remarks “I realized that you cannot make work inside of a vacuum.You have to know where you are in relation to contemporary painters.I began to look at work that might not be aesthetically the same as mine, but shared similar beliefs.”

While McNamus still does not consider himself a “sponge” to contemporary painting, he looks frequently at other work to gather inspiration for formal elements and color relationships.According to him, “The artists that I look at on a deeper, more meditative level are few but very important to me.Paul Laffoley, Adolf Wölfli, Martín Ramírez, Bosch, and Gauguin.The most contemporary influence would probably be Fiona Rae.”
Directly after graduation from the mfa program at Cranbrook, McManus and several colleagues traveled to the Santa Fe Art Colony to create work in a residency setting.McManus fell in love with the rudimentary program of an artist residency, where selected mid-career artists are granted space to create artwork apart from real world pressures.With hundreds of applicants vying for space in residency programs, McManus has been awarded residencies on a yearly basis in destinations such as Austria and Vermont to name a few.“I consider myself a bona fide residency junkie. It creates an atmosphere which allows for a process of make, think, react, repeat,” notes McManus.

While residency programs have given McNamus the time and space to create, there are countless books and sources of imagery that continue to bring depth and context to his images.The writings of psychiatrist Stanislav Grof from Czechoslovakia have fueled his extensive research on various modes of human consciousness.In McNamus’s work, we can also see the influence of writer Manly P.Hall, writer of “Meditation Symbols in Eastern and Western Mysticism,” which interprets and illustrates symbols of meditation throughout history.The rich texts of Carl Jung as well as Drunvalo Melchizedek are other books of interest to McNamus when it comes to developing his paintings.

McNamus’ work is both technical and meditative, representational and imaginative.He has found ways to produce factory perfect results by hand using acrylic paint on beveled wood.At first, McNamus was making hard-edged representational imagery using razor blades and contact paper.He progressed to the use of a plotter and sign vinyl, using scanned images to create a vector and ultimately a stencil.“The process is about knowing how to best exploit the technology.It’s very systematic the way it unfolds,” explains McNamus.

Within the last couple of years, McNamus has evolved his method to allow for a controlled spontaneity.During a residency in Virginia, he was unable to properly ventilate an area for airbrushing.The result was a partially wet painting that began to peel, revealing parts that had been covered up.With no way to fix the paintings, McNamus embraced the “accident” as he witnessed a painting practically fall apart.Nowadays, he deliberately veils an underpainting with transparent layers of paint, realizing that it will resurface in an unpredictable way.“ There is always a sense of color theory involved in my process, but there is no way to know how twenty layers of paint will look on top of one another.My process has become less deliberate and I allow the concept to guide each piece” says McNamus.

Even with a less deliberate process, McNamus’ paintings continue to be uniformly abstract and purposefully created.His concepts present rich and meaningful topics, and his work challenges viewers to reevaluate what they are seeing.McNamus’ imagery ranges from the religious iconography of Aztec and Mayan cultures to the symbolic geometry found in Cathedrals.The layered iconography represents both a juxtaposition and a harmony. | r

View more of McManus’ work:
McManus’ work is on display through September 7th at the Hunterdon Art Museum located at 7 Lower Center St, Clinton, NJ. The show is titled Tangents, and it offers viewers the opportunity to view the work through micro-optic 3D glasses.
Visit his website at www.darrenmcmanus.com.
Visit McManus and his wife at their studio/graphic design business called Ampersand Projects on 204 North Union Street in Lambertville, NJ.