GASPARE MANOS: PEREGRINATIONS IN PAINTING
“Ich muss die Woerter einzeln lieben lernen, so wie Cézanne die Farben, damit ich sie wiederholten setzen kann„
Voyage, displacement, exile, flight and return flight: departures and arrivals.
These are among the basic ingredients which go into the creative process of Gaspare Manos. The imagination, Guy Davenport wrote, possesses “a history of its own, as yet unwritten, and it has a geography, as yet only dimly seen.” It is into this geography of the imagination that Gaspare blazes his trail through the unexplored territory of recollected sensations, fleeting impressions, the enterprise of ocular testimony which constitutes the painter’s etiquette of memory.
Birthplace records the first inevitable fact of each man’s destiny. It so happened that Gaspare Manos was born in Bangkok, Thailand, instead of Dalmatia or Venice, the secular realm of his ancestors. Perhaps it was the casual parental gift of a large blackboard and colored chalk which decided his fate from the age of three. Soon his days were filled with the evocation of lush impressions gleaned from a car window of exotic street‐scenes and luxuriant plant forms, images which have remained with him to this day. From an early age he learned to adapt to and to absorb new environments, to be “at home with the improbable.”
“Perdre, mais perdre vraiment, pour laisser place a’ la trouvaille”, wrote Guillaume Apollinaire. Displacement implies loss, but also the promise of discovery. Do cities burn behind our backs when we depart, routines of morning suddenly disrupted forever, as our recollections dwindle to their essence, or all too often fade into oblivion? “What thou lovest best remains,” a poet pilgrim to Venice once declared.
Son of a diplomat family, “luxury gypsies,” as he has put it, Gaspare’s youth was to witness a kaleidoscope of new visual environments: from Thailand to Kenya, Switzerland to Greece, Belgium, England, France. A sequence of sojourns, an accumulating of a myriad of divergent scenes. If Paul Gauguin had to rebel against his conventional surroundings to visit the distant lands of his dreams, Gaspare was already born mid‐journey. Herodotus has given us a description of the stone benches of resting places situated at intervals for the convenience of visitors climbing the Tower of Babel in order to take in the panoramic vista of the metropolis. Likewise, the dust of many lands has also clung to Gaspare’s painterly cloak. The great German Expressionist painter Max Beckmann once wrote, “Why is it that in every city I hear lions roaring?” Like Beckmann, Gaspare Manos obsessively evokes the impressions which a vast experience of diverse urban scenes has left on his memory. The necessity of releasing these impressions onto canvas is central to his endeavor as a painter. Just as Igor Stravinsky graduated in jurisprudence rather than in music, so too Gaspare Manos took his degree at the London School of Economics in a discipline far from the precincts of the Muses. Yet the labors of the eye were ceaseless from the outstart, absorbing the chiaroscuro of Daumier or the precise chaos of Kandinsky, the way Russian constructivists organized blocks of structure or the light touch of the Japanese‐Parisian painter Foujita. Giorgio De Chirico and Alberto Savinio, haunted by their indelible childhood memories of Greece, offered examples of the manner in which Gaspare was to come to deal with his own rich cargo of recollected atmospheres.
The starting‐point is one of “removing memories from mental storage,” an urgent almost physical necessity. The eye is always at work, and the mind’s eye always gestating the experience. This process of fixing recollection on canvas takes the form of a sustained evocation of phantasmagoria, a progressively concrete hallucination in broad daylight which comes to be arrested in paint, just as the positive image is printed from the fixed photographic negative. The method is 19 Surrealist in nature, yet at the same time intimately related to the Expressionist working mechanism of a painter such as Oskar Kokoschka. “Painting is a disease,” Gaspare has observed, “and the only cure is to paint.” This echoes the words “violence of need” which Samuel Beckett used when speaking of the work of his friend the great Irish painter Jack B. Yeats: “There is neither place nor time for reassuring notes on these desperately immediate images.” Likewise the novelist knows the urgency, the disquieting necessity, of expressing his story with words, what the anthropologist Leo Frobenius called “Sagtrieb:” the urge to tell the tale. The artist has pointed to the stream of consciousness of Dujardin as perfected by James Joyce as an apt referent when it comes to his own procedural practice, a “progression of effect” culminating in the rendition of remembered sensation.
It is always a good sign when an artist does not understand his own painting. As Henri Matisse repliedwhen asked what one of his paintings “meant.” “I was hoping, Madame, that you could tell me”. Gaspare Manos has referred to his state of mind as that of a trance, an intuitive effortlessness, when he becomes deeply involved in painting. Afterwards, he says, “I cannot explain how I did it.” Georges Braque wrote that he knew when a painting was finished when he had made the idea disappear. From thinking, to painting while thinking, to what Gaspare Manos has called “painting without thinking:” this last state of satori, or effortless grace, is the gift from the gods which all artists, whether musician or painter, dancer or poet, pray for. Automatic pilot. The word “line” is employed in each creative form, whether in poetry, music, ballet, fashion, or painting. The line is fundamental to all the work of Gaspare Manos: “I privilege the line. Without line, no form. Without form, no structure. Without structure, no color,” he has observed. Thus drawing underpins the genesis of his paintings and remains in clear evidence in the finished work.
There is something “inevitable” about a finished painting of Gaspare Manos, as if it could not have been anything else but what it is. Likewise a lyric by a Symbolist poem can appear as if no one had written it at all, but that it had simply “come about” as a fact of nature: specifically local yet universal, eclectic yet simultaneously generic, highly personal yet at the same time achieving the anonymous state of the found artifact. It is that state of elegance which passes unobserved, the elegance which “renders a work of art invisible.”
Gaspare’s paintings strike the viewer as a transfer of natural facts, through the filter of emotion recollected, in a “notation” like a musical score offering us the outlines, the contours of the essence of his perception. This goal of the appearance of inevitability is what the writer Peter Handke is referring to when he says he must learn to love single words the way Cézanne did color, the lodestone sought by painter and poet alike. And meanwhile? “To live in the world of creation,” wrote Henry James, “to get into it and stay in it, to frequent it and to haunt it, to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity and meditation: this is the only thing.” “The imagination has a history, as yet unwritten,” wrote Guy Davenport, “and it has a geography, as yet only dimly seen.” If I were to imagine a portrait of Gaspare Manos by some Venetian master, I think it would be as a mapmaker, as a Geographer of the Imagination. As Jonathan Swift once wrote, paraphrasing Plutarch: „So Geographers, in Afric lands /With savage pictures fill their maps/And o’er unhabitable downs/Place elephants for want of towns.”
Each day, in his Venetian studio, Gaspare Manos is steadily charting such an unmapped geography of the imagination as he brings to light the hoard of farflung memory made manifest through paint on canvas.
Alan Jones, Venice 2008