by Elizabeth Teslow

“Be open for growth and the unexpected nature of art-making.”
Jeremy Plunkett

“The year goes by fast.  You cannot take a week for granted.”
Nicholas Mancini

After I completed my interviews with Jeremy Plunkett and Nicholas Mancini, Manifest’s second-year Artists in Residence, I was mentally exhausted.  For two enlightening hours, Jeremy and Nicholas discussed their views regarding contemporary art, techniques by the new and old masters, insight into new medias, and the importance of creating—constantly creating—and evolving one’s own artwork.

The MAR Award focuses on the contemporary art created by Jeremy and Nicholas in their respective studios.  At Manifest Gallery exhibition openings, Jeremy and Nicholas open their studios for the public—a great opportunity to promote their works and to encourage learning—this opens a whole new world for gallery goers.

Jeremy Plunkett (through Photo-Realism) and Nicholas Mancini (through Impressionistic Perception), explore the intimate relationship between the human being and his or her place within the environment; this may occur through a “pause” (Jeremy) or an “impression” (Nicholas).  Their work is not meant to be voyeuristic; rather, their work investigates science and veers into romanticism.  As the viewer (and after speaking with Jeremy and Nicholas), I came to one conclusion:  both artists have a deep respect for human nature.

Jeremy Plunkett describes his work as “Photo-Realism”—a stark contrast from his very warm eyes and receptive demeanor.  He is a natural teacher, literally (he has an extensive CV, with many years of experience as an adjunct professor and a teaching assistant.  He has an M.F.A. in painting from Ohio University and a B.F.A in two-dimensional studies from Bowling Green State University).  He is a very patient listener.  His studio reflects his work to a tee.  “I think I treat my studio like a workshop,” he states.  “I like to have all my tools available when I may need them, be it for frame building, printmaking, painting, or drawing.  I generally keep things organized and this [probably] shows a tidiness [that is] reflected in my process [of working].”  This process usually begins with “the physical act of preparing a canvas.  The crafting of the surface is important to me.  It sets the tone for the piece.  Later, I tend to gravitate towards involving photography.  I may set up some objects in the evening and play with the lighting on or around those objects to generate photographic sketches.  I manipulate or most likely crop these sketches on the computer to get a composition and map to paint or draw from.”

Jeremy Plunkett

When asked about his views on the world of contemporary art, and how “new media” (digital-influenced work) has helped shape his [own] works, Jeremy is eager to answer.  “The way I look at ‘new media’ is a dismantling of a lot of different traditional media approaches and [a] re-assembling of [new media approaches], such as installation, video, painting, [and] drawing into one sort of genre that involves an interdisciplinary representation [or] one collage, or a ‘new media’—it is all-encompassing.  I don’t look at myself as an artist in every role throughout the day in everything [that] I do—I become a viewer as well.  I am going to create work that I think is in some way relatable to the other aspects of my life and I think relatable to a lot of viewers of contemporary art.  Just because there is a ‘hype’ regarding ‘new media,’ I don’t think that this necessarily negates everything that might still be created in traditional means.  In a lot of ways, new media [could be considered] just another genre of art that’s being used or generated, and that makes me respect some other genres more—when I see it re-interpreted [or] re-appropriated.  New media may, for some people, clarify how traditional media was even used in the first place.”

Jeremy Plunkett – Paintings

Jeremy starts to add small amounts of paint to his palette.  “In most of my works, I work in a lot of reductive means.  I’ll physically erase material to use a heightened sense of value—light and dark—or chiaroscuro effects [made] popular by Caravaggio during the Late Renaissance.  Vermeer, a master of light and shadow, and Rembrandt, a master of sfumato, have always been an inspiration [to me] growing up [and helping me to] become a better artist.  It seems only natural that printmaking, or operating in a reverse or reductive [way], not necessarily [being] an additive one, [became a natural choice for me]—taking away material on the plate in order to leave the paper’s color, to leave the image, pulling the reverse impression.  [This is what I do when] drawing with charcoal—I like to put down the ground to take away, to reveal the image—there’s sort of a contradiction there because the more [I] take away, the more [I’m] realizing an image.”  He continues to scrape on his palette.  “I use [Vuillard] as a major influence in a lot of ways [to] capture an atmosphere.  I also work [using contemporary artist Eric Fischl] and by studying [their] works together [at the same time], I found an excitement—sort of this eerie and subversive content.  In the works of Eric Fischl [there are] these figures that just creep you out and sort of [make you] feel like a voyeur; but [with] Vuillard, there is some sort of sentiment and calming quiet nature—you feel like a voyeur, but you’re looking at a [more] romantic representation of [the figures], so you don’t feel like you shouldn’t be there.

“Hopper is another artist whom I [study] because [his work] is somewhat voyeuristic.  [His] light is so cold, that the stillness becomes [even quieter].  When the light I’m trying to capture becomes very cold or quiet—the light I’m attracted to in Hopper’s and in Fischl’s paintings—I’m always after that void; [a void] between a non-material and very descript moment, or two things operating in juxtaposition of each other.  [In] the compositions [or paintings] of Andrew Wyeth, his treatment of light and temperature are [captured differently] altogether; they read as very dimensional and very flat, and there is a duality [which] I am very attracted to—two things operating against each other that creates this perfect balance.

“When looking at interiors, it doesn’t matter what space it is—I think that we kind of drift or tend to have these private moments, a ‘pause,’ influenced by a light or an atmosphere or an environment where we think about ourselves [in a] solitary, isolated moment; maybe, our own mortality.  To re-create these moments is fascinating, because the more you describe the light, the more it is a non-subject—a void.

“Recently, I’ve been [experimenting by] painting these little plastic bags.”  We examine three small paintings on the wall above his palette.  I’m thinking, bags?  He takes note of my quizzical look, and smiles.  “I shroud a light in a dark space with a plastic garbage or trash bag, and the folds and creases become more evident.  The heightened part of the light is non-material, just a flat void of light.  I’m beautifying trash.  I’m re-purposing trash, trying to recycle a garbage bag for my own artistic means.  I was thinking:  ‘What is this little thing saying?’  So I was having a moment of reflection; I was thinking about this object, it’s abstract qualities, but at the same time, [looking at] a much realized subject.  Yet, when we observe [the bag] a little more intimately through the light and the void [luminated], it becomes a misrepresented [subject].

“Now, I’m [in the process of] painting a [large] window valence,” he points to the painting on his easel.  “[I’m] trying to create the space around the viewer by painting the object; the conversation between the object or just the simple subject, the mundane object, and [giving it] beauty.  I’m still figuring it out, but that’s why I’m here.”

Nicholas Mancini, when asked about “new media,” and whether he regards this art as influential, gives credit to Manifest as a place to “appreciate” all types of media.  “Here, at Manifest, the experience that I’ve had is that there is a strong emphasis on what would be considered more traditional ideas [of creating] art:  working, drawing from life, drawing from the figure.  Yet, at Manifest, there are a lot of artists whose work would not be considered [traditional] at all.  [This is because] the people that are involved with Manifest are from all over the world—[their] works bridge different gaps; [that is] if there are gaps between ‘new media’ and ‘old media.’  Manifest [accepts and brings] all different types of media together, whether it is film, whether it is music, it’s drawing, or it’s sculpture—it does not separate them.”  He stops to ask me if it is okay to play some music during our interview:  “What type of music do you like?  Classical?”  I answer, play some Beethoven, please.  For someone who considers himself to be in “constant flux,” Nicholas seems pretty relaxed.  A former hockey player from Massachusetts, Nicholas has deep, dark (almost soulful) eyes, and thick dark hair.  He also has countless ideas regarding the art world, which makes sense, considering his academic background (before receiving his B.F.A. from Tufts University and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 2010, he studied in Baltimore, New York City, and Norway—all within about eight years).  His ideas are reflected in his studio, which he describes as being “in constant flux, with multiple still life compositions or other various works set up [and ready to] be worked, and my studio’s walls are decorated with [not only] my work, [but] other paraphernalia [that] I hang to remind myself of my decisions [whether they are right or wrong] that I’ve made.  I also hang studies and sketches to examine [as] I develop larger paintings.  I post images of other [works by artists], photographs, and quotations—these [items] are my inspiration and remind me of [any] forgotten or lost thoughts.

Nicholas Mancini

“I consider myself a ‘perceptual’ painter—not strictly an observational one.  My work illustrates both a first impression and a deep investigation [or] visual experience [that represents] the relationship between myself and my object.  I may be considered more of a traditional painter or traditional artist working with charcoal or oil paint, but I’ve also experimented with video and I also record music; those facets of my work are done in a more contemporary way—they’re done digitally using new software, so both of these worlds [old media and new media] collide and intertwine.  [These worlds] influence each other; so for me, as an artist, they co-exist.  Whether or not they co-exist within the art world, [however], is not a [large] concern of mine, [and] I don’t think it should concern any artist unless [the artist] is [specifically creating more contemporary art].

“I have a relationship with [Hopper and Wyeth] because they are Northeastern artists, [and my] being from [Massachusetts], my home, [and] looking at their work—[their works absolutely represent] that part of the country.  Hopper was so excellent at illustrating American life.  I don’t think we have a better example of a figure painter than [Hopper], [as one] of the first [artists] to show [viewers real representation] of American life.  [This is] the same way Degas showed us these intimate, European, or French moments.  Wyeth, for me, is [very similar] to Hopper, painting Pennsylvania [in a] quiet, surreal [and] subdued way of storytelling.   It always feels very genuine, based on [his own] experience; a very perceptual experience.   Something happens in his work that, [again brings], these two worlds [old and new media], and they seem to [just] collide.  Wyeth was also [so] intimate with his models/sitters—his family.  Maybe I have a bias because Wyeth was a Northeasterner.

Nicholas Mancini – Cincinnati Church

“In terms of my work, I don’t feel like a voyeur.  For me, that line between voyeurism and being within that space—it’s so subtle the way that this [space] can change—it’s a very thin line.  But [those] artists that enjoy this kind of intimate relationship within this space [are not necessarily voyeurs at all, they simply] feel like [they] are a part of this space and are inside this space.

“[Richard] Diebenkorn’s work is really important for me right now because much of it is perceptual and abstract.  He has helped me [understand] new ideas [regarding] a kind of deep investigation of a subject, and a first impression, [which he] illustrates so well.  You get the feeling that these paintings have been labored over and cared for—the entire rectangle is considered—but at the same time, he doesn’t [really welcome the viewer into this space, simply] a glimpse.

“When you [enter an unknown] place, and I say this to my figure class, it is important that we study this [unfamiliar territory] as soon as possible.  The room that you’re in is just as important as you are.  Diebenkorn bridges a wide abstraction [with] figurative work—absolutely working with the figure in his [rectangular] space, so as we [continue to investigate his works], and we start to piece things together, [we ask ourselves]:  ‘How do [all of these elements] fit [together]?  What do I need [to investigate further]?  What don’t I need [to investigate further]?’  [Tell yourself to] get rid of [items] that are not important to this composition, but keep the [items] that are; at a certain point, however, a boundary is crossed, and [the investigation] becomes very dry.  We have [to remember that we need to] see [these works] perceptually.  [Much] like photography, we [begin] forgetting our first impression [and simply] failing to remember what this first experience [felt] like [to us].

“Diebenkorn is a [wonderful] artist for me to study because he is working [with] all of these genres—painting the figure, painting the interior, and then painting the [figure and interior] in a very abstract and geometrical way.  [This creates] a kind of vibration; [a vibration that] describes the world I’m currently living in right now.”

I couldn’t help but ask Jeremy and Nicholas about their overall experience(s) with the Manifest Artist in Residence Program.  I gathered, from our conversations, that Manifest had made an indelible positive impression on Jeremy and Nicholas—they responded to my question with similar enthusiastic responses.  For Jeremy, “the experience at the MAR has been really motivational.  The artists I’ve been surrounded with and the quality of exhibitions have inspired me to think more about approaches to my work.  At Manifest Drawing Center, I am drawing more from the live model and constantly thinking about how I can bring that atmosphere back to [my] studio—how I arrange compositions and subjects.  I taught last semester at NKU, and was able to see how Manifest was supporting my teachings as well.  It broadened my ‘artist well’ that I pull from live instruction.  The experience has allowed me to meet Cincinnati artists such as Jonathan Queen, Jimi Jones, Rob Anderson, Emil Joseph Robinson, and Kevin Muente.  I have also met and made positive connections with a handful of other non-local exhibiting artists visiting Manifest [at] opening receptions for their works.

“I have a strong passion for teaching at the collegiate level based on the positive and inspirational past experiences I have had as a student and as an instructor.  The community and connectivity that the academic area provides continues to facilitate my artist motivations and personal growth.

“Following the MAR, I would like to seek out more opportunities for artist residencies [and] full time professor positions in drawing, painting, [and] printmaking.   [I also plan to pursue] gallery representations for my works.”
For Nicholas, “one special part of the MAR beyond the studio and teaching is working with the gallery.  [As] residents, [we] are able to see [the] gallery from the opposite perspective [that most] artists [typically] see.  We are involved in the jury process for many shows, and at times [we] help [in the exhibition process].  Manifest has a strong support system—artists and teachers— that care about the gallery, the Drawing Center, and making art.  I am so grateful to have met so many wonderful artists [and to have had the opportunity] to work alongside them.

“Making work [in the various places I’ve been], [makes me] feel like I’m sort of separated from a part of myself; like there is a part of [me] that is still back home, waiting for me to come back and re-connect.  [So after my residency], I plan to move back to Massachusetts, teach privately and make work for a few months while considering graduate school.  The Northeast is my home.”

I asked the two seasoned MARs if they had any advice for the upcoming third-year Residents.   Jeremy maintains to “be open for growth and the unexpected nature of art-making.”  Nicholas adds “the year goes by fast.  You cannot take a week for granted.”  Sound advice, indeed.

2 Responses

  1. It has been wonderful for me to read about the experiences of these two young men, one of them being my son Nicholas. He has had a wonderful journey with Manifest. He is most appreciative of this residency and of having had the opportunity to work alongside Jeremy,
    to have met so many wonderful people in Cincinnati and to be a part of the growth of Manifest. I would like to thank you for having taken the time to interview Jeremy and Nicholas and to have published this piece.

  2. Thank you so very much, Ms. Mancini!

    I couldn’t have asked for a better assignment. Nicholas and Jeremy were such gentlemen. Totally professional and so down-to-earth. I had a terrific time, and I’m so thrilled to see your response!



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