An essay by Leslie Sprague


Qdos Arts Lorne

3 January - 16 January 2021


Richard Manning’s new show, aptly titled “Quiet”, is stunning.

Followers of this artist will already be familiar with his sensitivity to his chosen subject matter and his strong and fluid visual commentary on natural forms. In this show Manning has reached a high level of confidence, where he reaches towards a more nuanced and even abstract expression of the natural world. In so doing, he has created works that will not only nourish our senses, but will quite likely nourish our very souls.

It is a show arising out of dualities and contrasts. It is a show for quiet contemplation.

From the physical struggle involved with gaining and dealing with the extraordinarily powerful stimuli of a first time visit to Lake Eyre deep in the heart of Australia’s arid inland, or to observing and responding to the play of light across the western skies over the Bay from his studio in St Kilda, Manning has developed a body of work that is deeply contemplative.

His inspiration captures the very liquescence and the colour, light and mood of both sea and lake with a focussed vision and definitive eye and beautifully layered washes of paint.

Lake Eyre is a place of stark and harsh contrasts and ecological complexity. Mostly the lake, which itself seems without definable boundaries, shimmers in heat waves and mirages, with searing light cast over glaring expanses of salt and glittering gypsum. Deep and crusty runnels of dry watercourses straggle into it; silence boils around it, trees barely survive.

The lake is more than a lake. Probably one of the most fiercely elemental places in Australia, it is also a kind of abstract presence that draws people to it in a way that perhaps answers a need in their soul, or perhaps goes some way towards connecting people to an imagined unsullied and pure part of Nature.

When monsoonal rains fall across Queensland, the mighty northern inland rivers surge water down through the channel country into Lake Eyre. A complete transformation takes place as every conceivable living thing plunges into a frenetic breeding cycle of renewal and growth. Birds, fish, brine shrimp, dingoes, reptiles, grasses, wildflowers, all embark on a cycle of replenishment which often ends as soon as it began.

Manning is well aware of these sharp contrasts, which have been an inspiration to so many artists before him. But for him, all these things fell away. They are still there but are of tangential importance only. He has eschewed the more obvious material representations of place as described by his predecessors in favour of a more singular and perhaps more fugitive view found in the airy masses that dominate the inland skies.

Flying over the lake on a windless dawn morning gave Manning a perspective of extraordinary beauty. A glassy lake, ruffled yet by no breeze, unfolded below the small aircraft and reflected the small clouds and sky in a way where it was impossible to discern any distinction between the copper glow of the rising sun, the horizon line and the lake below. All references to the harsh country over which he flew, all it’s complexities and realities, became absorbed by this world of mirrored light and colour.

For Manning, a distillation of direct experience of place,  memory and senses has brought him to a place where everything comes together in a higher and calmer realm of air, colour, light, reflection. Ambiguity between the realms of sky and lake float across his canvas.

His St Kilda pieces are informed by a world perhaps not as harsh as that of the Inland, but they nevertheless show Richard an alchemist with the movement of light and colour across a range of western skies where storms and iridescent sunsets resonate and flow from his brushes.

Quietness, contemplation.


Les Sprague

December, 2020




An essay by Raymond Gill about Richard's exhibition PAUSE

Qdos Arts Lorne

7 January - 20 January 2018

This exhibition of 27 oil paintings by Richard Manning is two years in the making but its
subject matter - the natural world of the Great Ocean Road area has been in the artist’s
psyche for much longer.
For the past 16 years Richard lived part time in Kennett River. Taking his camera to the
nearby beaches, inlets, falls and forests he would come across a site, a place where he’d
‘find the moment, the spark’ and return to his studios, one at home and another in
Melbourne, work and re-work the image, first as a drawing and then on canvas.
All his works are intense images of the natural world, although there are striking images
in this new exhibition contrasting man made intrusions in the landscape. Outsized
rocks, barreling water, impenetrable forests seen in blues, greys, greens, and flickers of
orange. The world he paints is based in reality, but the image the viewer finally sees is his
‘emotional memory of the moment; it’s bigger than the reality,’ he explains. ‘I respond to
nature in a romantic way, a poetic way.’
His previous two exhibitions, also shown at Qdos Arts, explored the Great Ocean Road
but with each exhibition his ambitions have grown. He has, if you like, created a grander
vision. Richard has painted two large-scale diptychs for this exhibition, one of water
gushing over the scarred rocks at Carisbrook Creek and the other of the kinetic Sheoak
Falls. He was motivated to attempt these works after a road trip through Big Sur in
California and then encountering paintings of the Niagara Falls in the grand tradition at
the de Young Museum in San Francisco.
All the works in this new show were painted at his studio in St Kilda, a large industrial
space he shares with several other artists. It’s a long way from the bruising,
crashing coast beyond Lorne. Working quietly in a small, closed-off corner of the old
factory, he spent two to three months on each canvas often painting several at the same
‘I start with a drawing then build a finished work. I start, re-start, re-work and scrape
away. I always make myself work harder than I need to’ he says. Given Richard’s
solitary immersion in the world of each of his paintings it’s surprising to learn that he
worked in other art forms including video art over recent years. ‘It wasn’t for me’ he says
of the intrusions of speed, codes and equipment on his creativity. He now prefers the
‘immediacy and honesty of paint’ but sees a connection between the two art forms.
‘When I think about my paintings I see them as a storyboard, my story.’ 

Raymond Gill is editor and publisher of December 2017




An essay by Cliff Burtt about Richard's exhibition PAUSE

Qdos Arts Lorne

7 January - 20 January 2018

The paintings in this new body of work by Richard Manning share several
powerful threads: foremost among these is their connection to the rubric of
landscape in art. But these are no simple translations of the natural world into
paint; still less are they examples of plein air painting. They are, rather, scapes of
the imagination, distillations of countless hours the artist has spent in the the
forests of the Otways, Gippsland and the central ranges of Victoria. These works
are the result of the alchemy that is possible in the painter's meditation cell - the
studio, whereby impression and sensation undergoes a transformation into the
formal language of art.
Through tireless application and subtraction of skeins of paint, while still allowing
room for chaotic processes to enter into the building up of a picture, Manning
arrives at a liminal vision, capturing that fleeting moment of apprehension of
scene: that moment between our attention being drawn to a view and its coming
fully into focus. It is Manning's talent that allows him to register our nascent grasp
of the sublime and draw forth its seduction. For there is no getting around the fact
that these works are, quite simply, seductive. The artist's deep response to the
beauty of forest and glade, river and waterfall- and the conundrum of finding
appropriate visual expression to this suscitation- is realized through exquisite
colour contrasts and harmonies. That this use of colour should contribute to the
dream-like quality of these works is a measure of Manning's control over his
medium, finely balancing between abstraction and description.
These are works that eschew many of the issues that occupy contemporary
artists; politics and polemics are absent. In their place, in these troubled times, is
the response by an artist to the question of how to respond to the world as we
find it, and especially, that part which strikes the deepest chord within. In these
oneiric works, Manning gives us his truth. 

Cliff Burtt 2017




An essay byCliff Burtt about Richard's exhibition VIVID DARK

Cliff Burtt visited the studio at Vale Stret St Kilda and previewed the up coming exhibition VIVID DARK at Carbon Black Gallery.

25 April - 12 May 2013

In an age when artists race from the art school blocks, sprinting for success, our attention may be directed away from those who develop their ideas and craft with less swagger and noise. So doing, we deprive ourselves of the satisfactions to be gained contemplating work of depth and finesse. Both of these terms are wholly appropriate in describing the paintings of Richard Manning.

 A graduate of Fine Art at Monash, Manning has rigorously pursued his vision, with the landscape as his central motif- most particularly, the coastal environment, the intersection of land and sea, earth and water. Manning coaxes his subject matter into an aesthetic hovering between representation and abstraction. Some works are clearly representational; others tend to read as abstracts, while retaining certain features- composition, hue, tone- of the starting point. The resultant works have the quality of palimpsests, with traces of land or sea, foliage or structure shaping the eventual outcome.

 Above all, Manning is a painter, exploring the possibilities afforded with oil paint and graphite, canvas and board. Manning often works on a small, even intimate scale, yet the application of pigment and glazes, and use of brush, palette knife and scraffito- even sandpaper- suggest a grander scale. This boldness of working method necessarily means risking failure; many do not survive the rigors of the studio. The surviving paintings are carefully worked, but not fussy. It is possible to detect traces of past landscape masters in Manning’s work, though he is too much his own man for these to be direct. Yet in his use of a muted palette, and commitment to registering the light of pre-dawn and dusk, one might recall what Whistler was up to in his nocturnes. A century on, Manning shows the pursuit of crepuscular mystery is still valid: the proof is in the paintings.

 Cliff Burtt 2013