26 September – 20 October 2018
David Mankin’s work is about landscape, yet there is no attempt to mimic a ‘view’. Instead he conjures the feeling of being in the natural world, and a sense of our human insignificance in the face of the elements.
His paintings express a love for the landscape surrounding his Cornish home and studio, and a sense of freedom in the wild open spaces – the raw physical elements, big skies and surging seas.
In this new body of work Mankin sets out to explore the forces and rhythms underpinning the shifts we see and feel in the landscape.
In these paintings, it is as if the artist has gathered fragments of sensory experience from the outside world which, brought back to the studio, are allowed to spill out onto canvas. There is no imposed narrative or comment – just ‘here, this is what it was like.’
In Mankin’s working method the formal qualities of his medium are not neglected and the initial, intuitive flow is followed by a quiet process of refinement. Thought is given to balance in colour, line, tone, texture and shape. Mankin aims for a balanced composition, with dialogue between mark-making and passages of paint. The surface is built up, scratched, removed, scraped, and further layers added, all punctuated by marks and lines and graffiti-like scribble. The surface becomes activated as historical layers are allowed to seep through.During the course of a day’s work, a painting may change completely as elements or relationships are discovered, buried, lost and re-found, echoing the shifting ‘perpetual flux’ of the natural world. Buried scars of previous iterations echo the dark,
abandoned lodes beneath the earth; the soaring flight of a gull, encountered on a windy day, becomes a sweeping gestural brush mark; a tangle of fine sgraffito lines suggests the wind-blown branches of tamarisk at the cliff edge. A series of tiny dashes moving delicately across the corner of one painting is reminiscent of the dainty steps of an oystercatcher foraging on the edge of the shore. Irregular charcoal shapes seem traced directly from flotsam discovered on the beach – or perhaps they refer to the disused mine chimney stacks dotted along the cliffs. Mankin offers these painterly impressions for viewers to interpret as they will. Always there is the underlying energy of the sea, at times an early morning milkiness, at others a raging elemental force. The artist is remembering in paint.
As these recollections of the Cornish landscape tumble on to his surfaces, and the process ebbs and flows, art historical influences reveal themselves. Mankin admires Richard Diebenkorn’s insistent pushing of process; also Prunella Clough’s subtly layered and textured surfaces, and the way she isolated small details. Passages of visceral paintwork evoke Joan Eardley’s Catterline works.There’s a muscularity of line reminiscent of Roger Hilton, and a Lanyonesque influence discernible in the apparently aerial perspective of some paintings.
As with all painting, Mankin’s work needs to be seen ‘in the flesh’ – words can’t convey the subtleties. We need to stand in front of his paintings, taste the salt air and feel the warmth of the sun.
Pippa Young is a fine art painter whose work is collected internationally.
David Mankin – Perpetual Flux
The blueness one sees in a David Mankin painting is redolent of the sea, the magnetic pull and spirit of Cornwall, a landscape freighted with significance for the artist. However often one looks, one is never accustomed to the sea – there is almost nothing to add to its mystery, David suggests. Blues are a reflected beauty, an apogee of looking at shifting perspectives, submerged rhythms. An eloquence perhaps resists articulation with words yet is clearly derived from a working relationship with nature. The unquiet of nature is where the artist is enveloped by an andante of flux amid, beneath and above layers.
‘The sea has so much in it, in terms of its movement and energy – there is a real rhythm in the sea, an ebb and flow; that is what I love about the Cornish landscape’.
Here is an artist concerned with living in contact with nature, remembering that our minds are shaped by our bodily experiences of being in the world. He is a lover of big skies, surging sea and the intoxicating equilibriums found within the West Penwith landscape.
A passion for the landscape is rooted in an interest in geology, the topological aspect of the land; grooves, lines, ancient preferential pathways and a profound sense of freedom and openness which is gained from an intensely visual and spatial experience.
Often immersed outside – walking, cycling, browsing the coastal path, David is open to the elusive and primordial. ‘How one cannot help not to be influenced by this,’ he suggests.
Spending much time at the shoreline, he talks of coves, hidden beaches, long vistas and thus an astonishment found which is his motivation and inspiration. ‘I love my environment,’ he says. The ocean is loaded with personal significance and only a few hundred meters away from his studio, although its image is yet closer. An obvious cynosure of David’s studio is the pretty window above his desk looking out to the offing.
Asked how a work is begun; a number of paintings are often worked on at the same time. Paint may be thrown down onto canvas, and materials are explored using free association, gestural mark-making using any materials that the artist can lay hands on. Beginnings can vary but are generally built up slowly in layers of acrylic paint, then scratched, removed, sanded, scraped; each substrate of the paint comprising an archipelago of lines and graffiti-like scribble. The aim is to animate the surface, even an intentionally flat surface, to reveal an underneath seepage of history or narrative, which in places may spill to the surface.
Essential to the quality of the artist’s work is atmosphere. In going beyond reason and explanation (rocking a sense of order) the artist points to awe and the sublime. The rather demure blue of a painting: naïve, pale, is reminiscent of a shimmering grey sand, gossamer under moonlight. The painting could evoke an aerial view of a beach, looking down from a high cliff in the half-light. Muted flurries of criss-crossed lines at the top periphery lend a sharp synesthetic eeriness for a split second. A literacy of the timeless conjured from sensations, recognisable shapes, poetic lines, curves, queries, and mystery is enchanting. When asked whether the artist would concur with my thoughts, he didn’t agree or disagree, it was up to me. ‘It’s that sense of something that I am trying to get across – that atmosphere,’ he stated.
One notes the assemblage of familiar and unfamiliar shapes, veiled forms, and diaphanous layers over and under shifting tones in many of David Mankin’s paintings. Shadows and light fall across canvas, reinforcing an inherent sense of transience and flux, the core feature of this exhibition.
A kind of surface tension is created enthralling to inspect, a kind of tactile membrane that one wants to explore – an earthiness with serendipitous features that one enjoys finding unexpectedly. These are the painting’s chief ingredient and reward. ‘It is important that there is depth and suggestion, which comes out of the process’.
I think there is a trust for the viewer, in a Mankin painting, that whatever crosses one’s path will not be passed over. The artist has an entrepreneurial spirit, eager to express creativity from interaction and experience within the present microsecond, and from working-memory as well as having an awareness of the timeless.
One particular painting sends me a shiver of pleasure; and as with all the body of work for this exhibition confers a tranquility.
Ali Day, September 2018