Jon Manteau’s paintings surge across the gallery walls and can even become part of the floor covering, sweeping you up in swirling, brilliant waves of colors. Other works take the form of hundreds of postcard-sized images, digitally printed, mounted on wood, and painted. They are overwhelming as a group, but there is a certain poignancy in some.
For instance, there's the famous image of Barack Obama from the stencil by Shepard Fairoy that combined Mannie Garcia’s photograph with the word “HOPE” to remind us of his, and our, initial dreams. I like the fact that the pricing of these small works makes them accessible to everyone. Owning an original work of art or a handmade piece of pottery seems to put us in communication with another individual. It is life enhancing and the feeling lasts forever.
Since Philadelphia is the theme of this exhibition, it includes many of our civic icons, such as Ben Franklin, William Penn, and our own soft pretzels, cast and painted in bright colors — but where’s the mustard? His pseudo-domestic décor references the Barnes Museum, now a part of Philadelphia proper. Kirby is a joyous compendium of abstract images painted on children’s play mats assembled into a single unit with “flags” flying above and beyond the main assemblage.
Surrounding all these specific artifacts are antique tools, domestic furniture, and tourist memorabilia, all decorated by the artist, plus an official-looking historical place marker. It is “in-your-face Philadelphia” work created by an artist who is adamant about proclaiming his local connection, but he is not as provincial as he maintains. Yes, he graduated from Central High and was a tagger (until he turned 18) known as “Beep,” an active participant in the Klub City Decorators. (Taggers are gaining a new respect; art always wins, at least in the long run.) Manteau moved from this street start to study painting at the Parson’s School of Design under Sean Scully, then spent four years at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (where he won the coveted Cresson Traveling Scholarship), and earned an M.F.A. from the University of Delaware. Since then he has taught at several colleges in the area and is currently building the art department of Penn State Brandywine.
Recalling the old proverb "A cobbler should stick to his last," I think it is time for this artist to forget about setting the scene and direct his thoughts and energy to what he does best — painting works of art for the world of today and tomorrow. Art is its own reason for being; it does not need any other rationale for existence.
(At right: "Kirby")