Mary Manning


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Mary Manning grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada after her birth in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Her parents moved to St. George, Utah, and Mary paints in both of her Nevada and Utah homes, in addition to plein air excursions. After starting in oils and pastels, Mary works primarily in watercolors and acrylics. Of her work, Mary says:

Light and color have always been the heart of my art work, whether in paintings, drawings or photography. Earliest memories evoke sunlight flashing through tree leaves, sparkles bouncing off ocean waves, and the bright colors of comic strips and picture books. Until age 10, nearsightedness was so overwhelming, the outer world appeared as if Monet had painted it.

Through more than four decades of painting, drawing and photographing, I have been drawn to vivid colors that vibrate on canvas or paper, and landscapes, especially those in the West: deserts, mountains, precious water. Although born in a small town in Massachusetts, the panoramas of the West offer breath-taking spatial perspectives, intense color shifts, and startling contrasts between light and shadow that attract and transfix me as an artist.

 When I paint, what the eye sees reveals itself through the lenses of the heart and the mind joined as one on the canvas of my art. Southwestern artists such as Roland Lee, the late Jim Jones, Georgia O’Keefe, and Thomas Moran continue to inspire and create such joy in this work. Through painting, I wish to live, not counting how many breaths I take, but how many times my breath is taken away.


Biography of a Fine Artist

By Mary Manning


The real voyage of discovery

Consists not in seeking

New landscapes

But in having new eyes.


n    Marcel Proust


As I awaken, the world appears as a Monet painting does to most people, the shapes soft and blurry, as if seen through a reflection on water, or through mists. Then glasses firmly in place clarify every form as shapes come into focus. Contact lenses heighten the details of the surrounding environment, allowing clear and detailed sight from the center to the edges of what the eyes see: Experiencing the whole world as a work of art.


The eyes, the doors to perception, have opened many windows, many ways of seeing, that affected me becoming an artist. Knowing the world from Monet’s viewpoint – soft, blurred shapes defined by colors – went on for at least ten years of my life. The world only made sense from up close: The news of the entire world arrived from black words on white paper pages in books, newspapers, and magazines. A beloved grandmother read to brother John and me from Audubon’s great books on birds. At the age of three, the abstract black marks in a Golden storybook connected with Nana’s spoken words, when I recognized what she was saying as Snow White. A name! How exciting! Each word that began with a large capital letter had such power once I had decoded the meaning of those large and small letters.


At school the blackboard was a blur, but everything I needed to know came from being able to read the pages of textbooks, encyclopedias, newspapers and library books. Art in Bibles, and less than an arm’s length away on classroom desktops, let me peer into realms most people took for granted. Learning to draw and appreciate art was a major step for me, because it came into focus before my eyes less than an arm’s width away. Then I turned ten, and the school nurse gave me an eye test, which I promptly flunked. When asked to identify the largest letter on the eye chart, I failed, because instead of paying attention and memorizing letters the blurry pointer earmarked for other students as I had done in the past, I had ignored the whole process. When Mom read the school nurse’s note, she promptly called for an appointment with an eye doctor. After his examination, he told Mom I had 20/400, 20/600 vision, an outrageous number that made me practically blind. Horrified, Mom suggested to the doctor that I needed a seeing-eye dog and a tin cup full of pencils to sell on the streets of Las Vegas. No, the kindly ophthalmologist said, she just needs glasses. The days when I learned of the entire world, up close and personal, were over.


The first day I wore glasses, it felt that the ground beneath my feet arose to assault me. I had never seen individual, varied, multi-colored pieces of gravel, or rocks; leaves of our elm and mulberry trees twisting in the wind, as if they lived lives of their own; the black and brown pattern of stripes on our boxer dog’s coat. The world in focus overwhelmed me. A pink and golden sunrise over Frenchman’s Mountain, a sun setting behind the purple majesty of the Spring Mountains, craters on the Moon’s surface seen through a telescope… so many shapes, patterns, colors, and details to absorb.


With a pair of glasses allowing me to extend visual grasp, I set out to draw the Moon that summer, as well as the planets that we could see through the telescope’s lens planted in our backyard. Pastels became a favorite medium, because with a single breath, I could clear the paper and the surface of the chalk particles from where I worked. When tired, by resting the side of my head on the paper, I could still see the colors stroked onto the page even without glasses, a small blessing from being near-sighted. In high school, a love affair with oil painting began, and I kept painting all through the college years, growing so bold as to paint entire wooden board panels while living in Northern California, thanks to inspiration from muralist Robert Beckmann of Las Vegas and Portland, Ore. After my first husband smashed a pair of glasses, complete with Coke-bottle-thick lenses, the divorce papers and a brand new pair of contact lenses arrived within months of each other after Beckmann observed that I hid behind the glasses. As Mom drove me to her house in St. George, Utah, new lenses in place, I could see branches and shapes of cedar and pine trees in the distant mountains, another momentous discovery. Being able to see at the periphery, the edges of my eyesight once framed by glasses, again gave me another way of divining the world drenched in unfiltered light and awesome shapes rivaling Egyptian pyramids that is the West. These shifts in the way I have seen the world have driven who I am as an artist, a writer, and the way I live life.


Van Gogh, Picasso, and Georgia O’Keefe have inspired how and what I paint for my entire life. Van Gogh’s bold use of color and the thick strokes of his work have freed me to use vibrant colors and paint thick enough to give a three-dimensional quality to some of my work. As O’Keefe remembered seeing light on a red, white, and black patterned quilt before she could walk, I, too, have been enchanted by the play of light across objects, especially desert landscapes. O’Keefe once said that she found the bricks and mortar and all the greens in the northeast and Midwest uninspiring. Her inner artist sprang to life in the light playing over the shapes of her New Mexican ventures.  


Through all of this time that I have studied art, it seemed a period of gestation and study for the creativity which was to come.  An active life in journalism, which sent me all over the world to experience other cultures, other countries and other creative people, as well as support a daughter, kept me from trusting art as life’s work, although I continued to paint, draw and learn calligraphy. A Las Vegas pioneer and calligrapher, Charlene Cruze, offered a calligraphy class in October 2006, and the artist within myself burst onto the scene. While juggling a full-time job breaking news stories for the Las Vegas Sun Newspaper and its new Web site, researching and writing a history of Las Vegas for the Sun’s interactive Web site, and researching historical photos for a major coffee table-sized book on Caesar’s Palace, I began painting, writing and drawing passionately. Watercolors and acrylics emerged as tools for me to shape a creative life I never imagined. The first piece I did in this period, a mixed media work depicting five golden Bighorn Desert Sheep leaping over a chasm in the Virgin River Gorge in southwestern Utah, hangs at the foot of my bed, where it comes into focus as soon as the eyeglasses go into place each morning. The work combines art and a Haiku poem that reads:


Golden rainbow glows

Desert Bighorn sheep leaping

Sunrise ecstasy.


The work grew after a vivid dream I had of driving through the Virgin River Gorge between St. George and Las Vegas in an orchid Chrysler convertible, my favorite car. As I drove into the gorge as the sun rose, five Bighorn Sheep leapt over the car as I watched in awe, captivated by the red sandstone of the gorge, the golden shapes of the sheep as their powerful muscles carried them into what? That dream has never left me. As the years have passed, the sheep feel like my spirit, leaping into a gorge of creativity. The journalism career collapsed after thirty three years, but by taking a leap of faith into this creative side that has nestled inside of me all these years, it feels as if life has opened as wide as the vistas in the Southwest for me.


Picasso once said it had taken him all his life to learn how to paint like a 12-year-old. For me, it has taken a lifetime to learn to see not only with my own two blue eyes, but to see through the eye of perception, the one that joins the mind and the heart as one. Maybe I knew how to capture this perception from the beginning, but just needed the practice.