A day in the life Chris Mann reflects on art

Weekender concludes its weekly series looking at the work of local artists with an interview with Chris Mann, an artist whose mission to get viewers to respond to his work has created some memorable pieces. 


How do you begin your day?  

I’m an early morning person, so if I’m painting, I like to head off to my studio first thing. I generally start where I left off the night before, just to get some paint down on canvas (I tend to paint large canvases). I usually carry around in my head the work that I didn’t get done the night before, so I like to get down on canvas these ideas first thing. I enjoy the gestural aspect of painting, the physicality of it, so it’s a good way to wake up.  


How do you organize your studio?  

I have a really good space in which to work, with enough room to have some paintings on the wall on which I’m currently working. I also have a big table that I can work at, either standing or sitting, where I like to sketch and work flat on collage and other work that is in the preparation stage. Then I have a desk for smaller work and where I write myself notes. I like to write down ideas for artwork so I don’t forget them, then I come back later to explore the idea. I really like language and using it in my artwork, whether it’s poetry or specific words.  


How do you approach a new piece of work?  

I don’t usually have a fixed idea when I start a new piece of work. I think of it more as an exploration, feeling my way through the painting. I tend to start with a jumble of ideas, thoughts or feelings. I’m a visual thinker and learner and need to see ideas, so I often put my thoughts down in a sketchbook before I begin to paint. I am currently using some photos that were damaged during Hurricane Ivan I came across recently. The subjects are partly eroded and they appeal to me because they are more like memories than actual photographs are; the fragmentation is interesting to me. 


From where do you draw your inspiration?  

For years my inspiration was rooted in responding to the Cayman landscape. I’m not so interested in figurative painting; I try to develop a motif in response to an idea or feeling. For example, the mangroves have been a constant source of inspiration for me because I find them beautiful and also really important to our environment. I developed a series of paintings in response to this and enjoyed paring them down to simpler forms that represent more the idea of the mangroves.  

I then tried to represent other aspects of the experience of looking at them, such as the ripples in the water, suggestions of life beneath the water’s surface and its transparency. It is interesting that when you look at water you can separate looking at the seabed, or under the surface or the surface itself. I think this is an approach I take to subject matter generally, choosing aspects to develop. Looking is really important to my ideas.  

More recently I’ve been thinking about transience following personal experiences and events that have caused me to think more deeply on the issue. I’ve been responding to this by looking at objects I kept after clearing my parent’s house. I started to use these to create a series called “Memory Box.”  

These works deal with aspects of my life but may also be interesting to the viewer so they relate to the artwork themselves. My intention at the moment is that these will explore stages of life. In fact, the works so far are presented as model theaters or mixed media images of theaters, the theater and the play being a metaphor for life.  

Initially I have been using images of childhood, such as literature I enjoyed. Taking the idea of memory further, I’m also working on a series of landscapes that incorporate something of the Cayman landscape, but also I have strong memories of landscapes I remember. My father’s work took my family and I to a number of countries, we moved around every few years when I was younger, so I’m thinking about the landscapes of places where I lived, such as Aden, Sardinia, parts of Africa and Germany.  

I think beauty is important to me, and inspires my work, but it’s very subjective, what one finds beautiful. Above all, I try to avoid clichés. I’m looking to develop an artistic language that’s personal. It’s about expressing ideas and feelings and perhaps communicating viewers on some level. I am a sociable person, but the business of making art is quite solitary. I would find it difficult to work with others around, but I am interested to hear how people respond to my work, what it makes them think of, what it evokes.  


What are you working on right now? 

I have quite a few paintings on the go at any one time. “Four Way Stop,” a painting I made last year, deals with issues I feel strongly about: damage to the environment, insensitive development, selfishness of those who looked to make money without thought for the long-term impact on society and culture and road death. 

I’m also working on a commissioned piece, a landscape based on a garden. I’ve also just begun another landscape that is based upon a view from my studio. 

How long do you spend on your artwork? 

Months. I’m not a prolific painter; I prefer to take my time with a piece. 


Where do you see your artwork progressing?  

I’m happy to continue exploring the two strong themes of memory and landscape and am looking to create a series of artwork around these two themes. I like painting a series on a theme so that it can be fully explored. Like many artists here, I’d love to get my work shown abroad, to a wider audience. Despite the fact that we are a sophisticated, multicultural society there are still many people who don’t visit places such as the National Gallery which showcase my work, so a broader exposure would be vital in developing my career further. 


How do you close down your day?  

I sit and look at what I have done, and try to resist the temptation to do more. Then I usually write notes to remind myself of what I’d like to work on the following day or things that have occurred to me. It’s one of my most creative times as I often get lots of ideas for new directions.  


‘Four Way Cross’ by Chris Mann.


Part of a commissioned painting, by Chris Mann.


‘I’m not so interested in figurative painting; I try to develop a motif in response to an idea or feeling,’ says Chris Mann.