Manny Blair resides in Alberta, Canada. His work is focused on the abstract depiction of Brutalist architecture that dominated his childhood in north west England. The artist studied art & design in Cyprus, UK and the USA. He holds undergraduate degrees in Fine Art & Landscape Architecture, & a Masters Degree in Public art.
Abstract Brutalism is a continuation of a line of creative enquiry I have been pursuing since 2008. As a Landscape Architecture student, I was introduced to the revolutionary 20 year project of New Babylon by the Dutch artist Constant Nieuwenhuys. The monumental, fictional structures designed to accommodate humanities theoretical evolution into Homo Ludens (based on the 1938 book of the same name by cultural theorist Johan Huizinga), was the catalyst for my obsession with Brutalist architecture.
Homo Ludens is the notion that humanity's inevitable iteration as a species is that of the ‘Leisured’ human.The theory suggests that as technology marches on, AI & automation replace human endeavor in the workplace. As a result, humans must occupy their time with more recreational pursuits.
New Babylon occupies an unusual position in that it is regarded as both an artistic & an architectural project. Paradoxically, it conveys the potential as a utopian & a dystopian vision for humanity. It offers contradictory glimpses of a wonderful & simultaneously terrifying vision of the future. I regard Brutalist architecture the ideal, realized embodiment of New Babylon’s vision for Home Ludens.
As a student of modernist design theory & Stoic philosophy, these brooding monoliths of the urban landscape fascinate me. Brutalist architecture's physical magnetism emanates a powerful, threatening presence. The attraction is not one of traditional aesthetic (to their credit, they cannot be described as pretty), rather, they exude an over-whelming sense of unapologetic gravitas. The British social commentator Johnathan Meades describes Brutalist buildings as “...architecture for grown-ups”. It is this sense of physical presence that I strive for in my paintings.
I started to record the difficult aesthetics of Brutalist architecture to visually represent detachment & 'placelessness'. Although my work is abstract, the architectural references are illustrated by the fictional structures I create.
The process I employ is a mix of additive & reductive mark-making. I apply layers of color which are sanded back. I scrutinize the surface, masking out areas to salvage, then repeat the process. It is an on-going curation of accidents.
My own working paradox is that of working in two dimensions, whilst drawing from three dimensional theory & discipline. My ambition is to convey the sense of vibrating presence Brutalist architecture emits via the two dimensional plane of the ‘canvas’. This sense of presence is seen in the work of Clyfford Still & Mark Rothko. Both are examples of artists whose work dominate the spaces they occupy.
The nomenclature of my work is taken from Joy Division song lyrics. The lyrics convey a sense of unease & latent isolation, which compliments my ambition for Abstract Brutalism, with Joy Division providing the sound track.
Manny Blair was born in 1971 in Blackpool, Lancashire, UK.
He studied Art & Design at Blackpool & the Fylde College, then completed his foundational art education at Cyprus College of Art under the tutelage of Stass Paraskos.
On return to the UK, Blair commenced his Fine Art degree at University of Sunderland, counting Turner Art Prize nominee, Richard Billingham as one of his year’s peers. During his second academic year, Blair studied at East Carolina University in North Carolina, USA. In 1994 he completed his Fine Art under-graduate degree in painting & printmaking with an Honors degree.
In 2001, Blair returned to education at Manchester Metropolitan University to study Landscape Architecture. Then obtained his Master’s degree in PublicArt, combining his Fine Art & Landscape Architecture specialties. During this period, he benefitted from the guidance of artist, Jason Minsky, who instilled a professional artistic rigor which is fundamental to Blair’s artistic practice to this day.
In 2008, Blair immigrated to Canada, and became a Canadian citizen in 2014. The move to Canada saw the development of his current series of work, Abstract Brutalism which he has exhibited in Alberta & Saskatchewan. In addition to establishing himself in the Canadian art scene, Blair also taught drawing & abstraction at the Alberta University of the Arts in Calgary for four years.
Blair’s artistic influences are varied & include artists such as Constant Nieuwenhuys, Clyfford Still, Francis Bacon & Julie Mehretu; architects such as Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Rudolf Schindler & Erno Goldfinger; designers such as Dieter Rams & Thomas Heatherwick and musicians such as The Smiths, New Order and particularly, Joy Division.
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