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Dominick Manco’s “cynical realism”

Artist’s digital photography part of “Kitsch It” show

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Many times, an artist's work will morph and evolve throughout their career, sometimes changing styles, making large thematic shifts, or even switching media entirely. This is nothing new, but it is usually a cause to take notice, recognize what is happening with the artists work, and look at why the shifts have been made.

Dominick Manco made a concerted shift from more traditional painting to photography/digital media, and dramatically altered his work within the last 5 years. Manco's current work, including the series "Pollyanna"; "Boys of the Summer”; and "Babes in the Wood,” are all centered around the use of hyperbolic dolls heads placed onto the bodies of different models, some including his children. These bodies of work all explore and critique concepts of innocence, grandiose dreams, play, and cynicism.

In 2009, Dominick Manco began exhibiting his new work again, claiming to be a "re-emerging" artist after nearly a decade long hiatus of life changes and artistic soul searching. Manco is currently teaching Digital Design at Huntington High School, and is based in Fort Wayne. Also interestingly, Dominick Manco is also working at New Republic tattoo, founded by his brother Donnie. Manco's work has garnered a number of successes, including work being purchased for the FWMoA's permanent collection, the inclusion of his work in a publication and state touring exhibition, as well as a Lilly Foundation Creativity in Teaching grant. Having always taken photographs as references to his work and as a hobby, Manco started to realize that some of the manipulated photos he was using as references for his paintings were more directly aesthetically pleasing. This new realm in his artistic practice is allowing him the room to be more expressive, risk-taking, and immediate than ever before. While photography and digital media are somewhat far from the traditional forms of art that Manco was trained in, he manages to include a strong painterly approach to his images.

Manco creates intentionally unrealistic characters using images of doll-like kitsch-laden faces to accent the "fake-ness" of the images presented, making these pieces surrealistic and evocative rather than descriptive. The digital manipulation Manco uses separates and highlights the characters from the environment emphasizing their roles within the overarching narratives of his work. The process of digital manipulation allows Manco complete control over the formal and conceptual aspects of the work. In certain series, like "Pollyanna" are specifically composed of nude female characters with props, topped with doll heads and smiling faces, forming a basis for the eponymous works' main character, dreaming that she can parallel certain not-so-easily attainable goals. Taken from the classic children's literature by the same name, the “Pollyanna” series criticizes the false optimisms that are constantly playing upon the natural human response of needs for comfort. This work follows a path that leads to a post-feminist aesthetic which shows that forced equality isn't necessary, and that there is a melancholy freedom in accepting the fact that you are incapable of doing certain things.

"Babes in the Woods", and "Boys of the Summer" both center around the inclusion of similar but different doll heads placed onto the bodies of children. These characters are then placed inside of woodland vignettes, where the children are seen interacting with themselves and their environment. These strong displays of innocence are infused with concepts like the sanctity of play in "Boys of the Summer", and feelings of remoteness and liminal experiences in "Babes in the Woods". More than the "Pollyanna" series, the latter two series' of images are more complex and composed of layered picture planes. "Boys of the Summer" and "Babes in the Woods" also have a much more entertaining, lyrical quality than the “Pollyanna” series, that although can be less immediately impacting, allows these two series stronger relationships to the viewer.

Manco's work can be formally referenced with the Chinese cynical realist painters Yue Min Jun, Fang Lijun, as well as many contemporary digital photographers like Chi Peng and Loretta Lux. His use of digital manipulation follows within the contemporary discourse of the value of a constructed image, and how that is translated into the process of making art. The contemporary art movement of Cynical Realism began in China post-1989 in a response to China's socio-political issues since the 1911 Revolution, especially the first period of opening up during the 1990's. Of these painters, Manco's work has the greatest visual similarities with Yue Min Jun whose large, smiles-turned-grimaced faces on similar bodies is reminiscent of the doll heads which are almost uniform, and hyperbolically void. Conceptually, these two artists' works are similar in that they are subtle but constant reminders of the inherent issues that come about by blindly following ideologies which may or may not be based in reality (political, personal, etc). Where Yue Min Jun's work is based upon the relationship between Eastern and Western culture, specifically through the lens of totalitarian communism and democratic capitalism. His extremely large, smiling faces are monuments to the uneasy happiness of post-1989 student rebellion, as the Chinese government began to loosen its policies on culture and economics. Manco's work, less politically motivated, is dealing with broad issues such as the pursuit and follies of empowerment and how this universally relates to the human experience.

While the credibility of an artist is many times keyed into the stability of their practice, artwork also necessarily needs to change and evolve to match the artists voice ability to create. Dominick Manco's ability to create evocative digital images is an artistic triumph for any classically trained painter. The creative freedom developed through the use of digital technology allows Manco to paint with a new media.

Dominick Manco's work can currently be seen at Club Soda in Wunderkammer Company's exhibition "Kitsch It", until Aug. 18. To see more of Manco's work, visit www.dominickmanco.com

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.