Arts+Leisure is pleased to present JJ Manford’s first project at the gallery, Greenport Magic. The thirteen paintings in this exhibition present the viewer with intricate and luminous representations of surreal landscapes depicting fantastical worlds wherein the power of nature is at the forefront of the imagination. Manford pares his paintings down into nearly symbolic representations of figures and landscapes, using “images that have been reduced to symbols, culturally, and thus emptied out. So I can get to this other specificity through an almost archetypal image that has been drained of its own specificity.” Though these worlds are imbued with a sense of magical realism, their beauty in part derives from the sense that nature is both “visually extraordinary and terribly dangerous.”
In A Peaceable Kingdom, everything is rendered on the same plane, with little to no distinction between creatures of different sizes – here, a snail is equal to an owl. The animals perch on branches and earth that are barely differentiated from their own bodies in terms of depth and mark-making, seeming at once inextricably bound to their environs while at the same time able to be knocked at any moment into the ether. In Devil Walk, the boundaries between the landscape and its inhabitants becomes further blurred, suggesting the interdependence of these creatures with one another and with the environment. Plants, animals, and human-like figures are wiry and spindly, both precariously teetering on their own edges while simultaneously intertwined with one another like webs across the canvas.
Elsewhere, Manford’s depictions of wanderers and nomads present lone riders on horseback on seemingly psychic wanderings through symbolic landscapes. In Blood Moon Wanderer, the rider holds a smoking pipe to his mouth, blazing through a lush land full of bizarre and unrecognizable fauna silhouetted against a radiant sunset sky full of pink, purple, and green. His surroundings are almost indistinguishable from his own body and that of his horse, who traverses the terrain with curled hooves and blood-red eyes. The hint of menace in these radiant worlds is further suggested in Psychic Wanderer with the inclusion of a skull and bats flying ominously against the full moon. In Manford’s own words, “The characters I depict can be devilish, and also sad, downtrodden wayfarers and Hobos that sort of embody a displaced, disenfranchised mind set; I think the imagination, which can be lost in adulthood, might actually be that "place" from which (he) the wanderer is dislocated, and forever, perpetually trying to return to/ locate.”
Born in 1983, JJ Manford is an artist living and working in Brooklyn. He received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University in 2006, a Post-Baccalaureate degree from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and his MFA from Hunter College in 2013. He has exhibited extensively within the US and abroad, including with John Davis Gallery in Hudson, NY; Freight+Volume and CANADA in NYC; and One River Gallery in Englewood, NJ, to name a few. JJ is also a co-founder of the Brooklyn-based artist collective Underdonk, and has organized projects independently which have been featured in Hyperallergic, Two Coats of Paint, and The Huffington Post. Most recently, he lead a critique as an MFA-SO visiting artist at Hunter College, NY, and as a visiting Painting Critic for Bruce High Quality Foundation University. JJ is currently an adjunct professor at Pratt Institute, where he teaches a foundation class in color theory and design.