There was something magnetic about Manifest Gallery when I walked into it late last Thursday afternoon.
And it wasn’t the space, designed to be charming with its recently opened art shows, the echoes of my slow-moving footsteps and the lost keystrokes of someone at a nearby office desk.
It was the well-curated combination of two resident artists hiding away behind those things — tangled in freshly minted work, upcoming moves and new things to create.
Nicholas Mancini and Jeremy Plunkett were in their neighboring studios sifting through iTunes and working on their prospective projects when I found them in the building’s back half. They were thinking about their past year in Cincinnati, and the artwork that was a result of it.
“Immediately it’s like this last breath and now I’m almost lost as to where I’m going to go,” Mancini says. “Your work is going there up to this point and now it’s out there. You’re done with it, and now it’s up.”
The two resident artists (plural for the first time this year), who are both painters from life (though they both work in other mediums too), opened their end-of-the-residency exhibition MAR Showcase May 30.
Mancini’s portion of the show is made by a compelling collection of moments painted perceptual remnants in his show Vestige, and Plunkett’s by an intimate, meticulously detailed collection of photorealistic light paintings in his show Container.
“I always find myself very attracted to what’s called the sublime feeling, and I try to get there with my work and it’s always been a theme,” Plunkett says. “Can I represent light in the most pure, realistic way?”
Plunkett is the type of artist who will trick you (cause you to triple-take a work until you realize it isn’t a photograph, but a humanly rendered painting), and one whose extraordinary attention to detail made me wish I knew something as preciously as he does his 6-by-4-inch, light-through-plastic-bag paintings.
Also hewn with oil, Mancini’s work balances Plunkett’s beautifully. Emotional abstractions of figures, still life and portraits reminded me first of some sweet melody, without any close look at or step up to. Full of fleeting pleasure and the sunset’s best colors, his work is briefer, shattered, and is able to catch you just in time to fall as you do.
“There’s a painting in the show that I did of my microwave and it’s like this thing, this moment,” Mancini says. “There’s this moment in a day where you go to open it and you go to put your coffee in because it’s been sitting there all day and it’s cold now, and you stop yourself and this thing you look at everyday becomes something else. And actually, I kind of like that way of thinking about it. When something becomes something else.”
After studying in several different art programs, graduating in 2010 and traveling through Norway and Italy for a year and a half, Mancini came to Manifest from his hometown of Swampscott, Mass. Plunkett came from Milwaukee after having earned his MFA at Ohio University, teaching art classes for a couple of years and then breaking from art to focus on cycling, before he again began craving a space that would enable him creatively.
Which is exactly what each of them got.
“They showed a high degree of commitment to a vein of work which showed strong intellect, a relationship to the broader history of the practice without being derivative, and a consistency that promised a trajectory that could be boosted by immersion an intense one-year program like ours,” says Jason Franz, Manifest executive director. “Based on their solo exhibits at the gallery I can say this has proven to be so true, as I am delighted with the results of this first set of MAR showcase exhibitions.”
Just before I left their studios, Plunkett caught me to tell me something I’d forgotten to ask him: that he and Mancini would leave the city with something beyond their new collections and everything that came with delving deeply into themselves during such a precise stretch of time. They’d leave with the memories and results that come from a shared residency, city and companionship that pushed and pondered and grew together as they did.
Leaning in the doorway between their two workspaces, Mancini merely turned up the corners of his mouth, nodded in agreement and then walked back to his blank canvas.
MAR Showcase features an artists' gallery talk at 5 p.m. Saturday and closes June 27. Manifest Creative Research Gallery, 2727 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, manifestgallery.org.