At first glance, the subject of Richard Manning's art is landscape, but a close study of his oeuvre suggests his pursuit is that of a symbolist, in which the ultimate goal is a rendering in paint of what might be best described as 'spirit of place'.
An analogy can be made to Chomsky's conception of deep and surface structure in language. In Manning's work the surface is quite literal: the canvas and paint itself, and the images constructed with these materials. All of Manning's work can be considered representational, but below the surface representation lies another, deeper structure sought by the artist. With each new canvas this search is renewed; each is an expedition with the end point arrived at by a process that by degrees comes to rest at the goal. After careful, exquisitely rendered studies are executed in graphite and coloured pencil, the work of transcription into oils is begun. There follows an extended and often gruelling process of application and removal of paint, in which the image- for it is always an image, never wholly abstract- becomes now more, now less proximate to the sense of place and time the artist is trying to capture.
At the heart of each completed work is something which is resistant to adequate representation by ordinary language, but which may be understood as mood. It is a relationship bounded by a specific place, the artist's experience of that place, and the attempt to capture the interaction between the two. This experience of place is, moreover, composed of both unique moments of time, and the sensation of time flowing through space itself. The ultimate subject of Manning's paintings is- by this reading- the experience of self in the process of registering its environment. The recurring imagery of water in the artist's work points us to what is going on: according to the Heraclitan adage, one can't enter the same river twice- neither remain completely unchanged. Both the painter and his art is transformed by the alchemy of the studio.
Cliff Burtt 2022