Artist Spotlight + Inside the Artist Studio of Michael McManus

Vibrant, intimate, endearing.

Vibrant, intimate, endearing are the three words Michael McManus used when asked to describe his work. Michael grew up in Lafayette, Louisiana with a love for music, but found his passion shifting towards drawing as he got older. The Q&A below dives into his fascination with the intimate and magical process of bringing a person’s character to life.

Salvador Dali: A sketchbook study of skin.

Describe yourself in one word. Ruminative.

What do you love the most about creating art in New Orleans? What particular part of your immediate environment, in your neighborhood specifically influences your work? My favorite thing about creating art in New Orleans is the loose exuberance of the people. They are willing to jump behind a second line or ride a horse down Broad at the drop of a hat. You always feel connected to area around you because the air is thick with scents of cookouts and local flora.

Describe your creative process. Are there any rituals or rites of passage you exercise before you begin a new piece? I usually begin by studying several photographs of a subject to get a feel for their range of expression, personality, facial features, etc. Each person radiates in a different way – by getting a good feel of their character I am better able to find certain areas to exaggerate, to soften, to embellish or distort. By combining several of these, it is possible to bring out a more lively and expressive subject than what is found on the source photograph. Once I block the general form out on paper, I work on the darkest darks and lightest lights, then slowly bring all the other gradients in. My work can be very tedious, so I’ve found that running and meditation helps with stamina and focus.

Where do you draw inspiration? My work can be rather straightforward – theres not much input from abstract images and concepts. But I wouldn’t be able to work for so long if I wasn’t absolutely turned on, plugged in and engaged in a creative flow. I listen to music, talks, lectures, poetry, audiobooks, documentaries and podcasts constantly. As far as music I usually go for Liszt, Phillip Glass, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros, Chopin, The Books, or Brian Eno. I particularly like lectures and discussions on philosophy (particularly Western phenomenology and various Eastern traditions), psychology, history, astrophysics, neuroscience, meditation, and the great wisdom traditions – with the help of thinkers such as Joseph Campbell, Jordan Peterson, Carl Jung, and Alan Watts.

A portrait of Dave Dixon, father of the Superdome and World Championship Tennis.

Who are your artistic influences or gurus? Realists I love – Dennis Wojtkiewicz, Dirk Dzimirsky, Zaria Forman. My more general artistic influences include Max Ernst, Dali, Alan Watts, and G. F. W. Hegel.

In New Orleans, art and music go hand in hand. What type of music, band or song lyric best describes your work? The Books – Beautiful People

Where can we find you when you are not creating art? Running through the parks during the day, walking through the parks during the night, or holed up in my house studio working on music. Also drawing at Fairgrinds or Rook, or playing pool at Holy Ground, Marie’s, or the Drifter Hotel.

What is your favorite time of day/day of the week/month of the year? 11pm to 5am is my most creative time of day – due to the solitude, the excitement for what I will create, and the mystery of the night. I don’t have a day job currently so every day of the week is my favorite. April and November are amazing in New Orleans.

What is something people don’t know about you? A fun fact. I have a black belt in American Shotokan.

The Times-Picayune is marking the tricentennial of New Orleans with its ongoing 300 for 300 project, running through 2018 and highlighting 300 people who have made New Orleans New Orleans, featuring original artwork commissioned by | The Times-Picayune with Where Y’Art gallery. Michael McManus is one of the 12 artists selected for the project. Check out portraits from Week 3 here.