One of my favorite pieces of Barsoom art that wasn’t done by St. John, Krenkel, Frazetta, or any of the “usual suspects” of Barsoomian artists is by Gregory Manchess, and recently I had a chance to ask him some questions.
First — the wonderful piece of art in question:
A Princess of Mars by Gregory Manchess
Q & A with Gregory Manchess
How did you first become aware of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Barsoom ?
A classmate in 7th grade was reading the series. He was a ‘dinosaur friend’ from early on, knew all the names, etc. So I trusted his opinion. He loved the series, but I didn’t get around to reading Burroughs until I was much older. Still, I read it with an adolescent pov.
What were the circumstances that led you to do the painting?
I help eight other illustrators/instructors teach a focused week-long workshop on painting for the genre of SF&F each June in Amherst, Massachusetts. One of our book cover assignments was based on ‘A Princess of Mars.’ I wanted them to watch me take on the same assignment, so this painting was a demo piece for the workshop.
Your work is very distinctive — different from the “typical” Barssoom art. Who would you say were your influences? Were you a particular fan of any of the prior Barsoom artists? (Schoonover, St. John, Krenkel, Frazetta, Whelan, etc………)
I’ve been a fan of Golden Age illustrators since before art school, and a very focused fan of all kinds of illustration art. I’ve been studying the field since I was a kid. The paintings were so much more appealing than a page full of text, that I never needed very much narration to spur my imagination.
When I paint, I’m generally thinking of moderns themes but asking myself how guys like Schoonover and Scheaffer might handle a scene. I want the work to have a fine art appeal. I think that shifts the focus away from typical right away.
Your Thark warrior is a bit different than most — what was your approach to that aspect of it? Influences? Things you tried to avoid? Accomplish?
I don’t like the pulp attitude that most of the art has. Look at Schoonover’s work for the story. Classic museum-quality images. Gorgeous.
Most of the art I see around the subject of Barsoom looks like the artist asked himself, “wouldn’t it be great to see what that looked like?” But this leads to just working with the same aspects of the story all the time. I felt that the Tharks have been ‘revealed’ plenty by artists over the years. So, I took the angle of assuming the viewer is already familiar with the subject, and painted a scene based on a different layer of interest than just ‘showing what it looked like.’
I wanted to create human figures in movement, not as set pieces on a stage. Characters in motion, not just typical figures posing. It’s not an action piece, it’s a moving piece. Deja has John’s back. We feel they are a team.
The forced size of the Thark gives us the feeling of his size without beating the viewer over the head. And the crop adds to the engagement of the viewer’s gut and mind by asking them to finish the scene in their head.
Who has the original? Are prints avaialble to buy?
The original is in a private collection already. Collectors really like the Mars stories. If I could have it, I’d love to own a handful of the Robert Abbott paintings for the mid-60’s covers. Beautiful.
Have you done other Barsoom art [I’ve searched — didn’t find any] Plans to do any more Barsoom art?
No, but I’ve plans to do more. Unless the new film eclipses any interest.
Gregory Manchess Biography
Creating a moment that communicates emotionally with the viewer is the essence of Gregory Manchess’ artwork. A native of Kentucky, he earned a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art & Design in 1977, but is largely self-taught in drawing and painting. He spent two years as a studio illustrator with Hellman Design Associates before striking out on his own in 1979.
Rhythm and timing, conveying emotion through brushwork and achieving a balance of concept and aesthetics are essential components of his technique. This has garnered prestigious assignments from an ever-widening list of clients. His art has highlighted covers for Time, National Geographic, Atlantic Monthly, and the Major League Baseball World Series Program; spreads for Playboy, Omni, Newsweek, National Geographic, and Smithsonian; countless advertising campaigns and book covers. For Federal Express he created five paintings for display in the company’s corporate headquarters, which were then reproduced and distributed as posters and greeting cards. He has also illustrated movie posters for Paramount, Columbia, and Disney; conceptual work for The Chronicles of Narnia. His portrait of Sean Connery was used as the defining climactic moment in Warner Brothers’ Finding Forrester.
Manchess’ interest in history and his excellent figure work have made his paintings a favorite choice of the National Geographic Society on many occasions, including an expedition to the Fond du Lac river in Canada for the 1996 article David Thomson: The Man Who Measured Canada, and illustrations for The Wreck of the C.S.S. Alabama. Gregory has completed a large portrait of Abraham Lincoln and seven major paintings depicting his life for the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois.
Recently, Gregory finished ten mural paintings for a National Geographic exhibition on an actual pirate ship. “Real Pirates: The Untold Story of The Whydah, from Slave Ship to Pirate Ship” will tour 15 cities over 5 years. Currently, it is showing at Nauticus Museum in Norfolk, VA through April 2010.
Manchess’ work has also been recognized in the children’s book market. His first book, To Capture The Wind by Sheila MacGill-Callahan, was published in 1997 and nominated for a Caldecott Award, followed by Nanuk: Lord of the Ice, by Brian Heinz, released a year later. His second collaboration with Heinz, Cheyenne Medicine Hat, a story about wild mustangs, was released to wide acclaim in 2006. Other books include, Giving Thanks, 2003, and The Last River, 2006, and Magellan’s World, released by Mikaya Press in 2007. Other book work includes over 70 covers for Louis L’Amour novels and short stories. A lavishly painted limited edition of classic Robert E. Howard stories with 60 paintings has just been released in March 2010 by Wandering Star Press.
Widely awarded within the industry, Manchess exhibits frequently at the Society of Illustrators in New York, where he has won both gold and silver medals. His peers at the Society honored him with the coveted Hamilton King Award, based on an artist’s career accomplishments, in 1999. The following year they awarded him the Stephan Dohanos Award for the best illustration of the year by a member. The Society of Illustrators in Los Angeles awarded him two silver medals and a Best in Show Award. Artist’s Magazine gave him First Prize in their 1990 Wildlife Art Competition. He was featured in Communication Arts in 1995, and featured in 1996, 1998, and 2000 in Step-By-Step Graphics. He has since appeared in many issues of the Communication Arts, Step-By-Step, and Spectrum juried annuals. Spectrum awarded him a silver medal in 2001 and showcased a painting for their call-for-entries 2003 poster. He has exhibited in New York and Hong Kong, and in 1997 was featured in a solo exhibition at the Witham Gallery. Gregory is included in Walt Reed’s latest edition of “The Illustrator in America, 1860-2000.”
Manchess teaches a week long, intensely focused, painting course along with 8 other artists in Amherst, MA known as The Illustration Master Class. He lectures frequently at universities and colleges nationwide and gives workshops on painting at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA.
A two hour video of Gregory’s painting process is available as a download from Conceptart.org