Tuesday, 24 March 2015

An interview with Simon Manby by Mathilde Armantier

An interview with Simon Manby:

During this month of March 2015, Simon Manby does us the honour of displaying his work at the Portico Gallery. Drawings, prints and sculptures adorn our venue with a fine particular style that is very much his own.

When did you decide that you would be an artist?

My mother was a painter, and her mother before her was a painter. My grandmother in fact met Rodin and corresponded with him, because she studied with Alphonse Legros in London. So I was raised in an artistic atmosphere. All children draw and paint. I think at the age of 10 or 11, my parents gave me a little paint box. I sat in Cornwall, at the seaside, and tried to do a watercolour. I think that, really, I have always wanted to be an artist. It was partly the act of wanting to be an artist. In other words, I found it interesting and exciting. Mozart is a musician and composer, not because he wanted to be; I think I wanted to be an artist.

When did you first have the intention of creating?

I will you tell two things that happened. When I was an adolescent, I didnt really know what I wanted to do, I was looking for sensible way to have a career. I think my parents were quite fed up with hearing of my various projects, so my father said one day never mind what you want to do with your whole life, what would you do now? And immediately I replied, ‘I would like to go to an art school, to which he answered well, go to an art school then. My father grew up during the 1930s in a poor family. He had really wanted to be an artist, but that was a time when his parents would say no, do something sensible. So he studied architecture, but was not really happy with it and, in the end, he changed to painting.
The other interesting thing is how I chose to be a sculptor. I was maybe 3 or 4, it was before we left London. My mother went to see a friend who was an artist, a sculptor. They were talking. In the studio, there were some boards, some clay, and modelling stands, well things to make sculptures. When I was 18, I went to Art School in Edinburgh, and I thought I would become a painter. But when I got in there, and went into the sculpture room, I thought no, this is really where I want to be. I had been making sculptures since I was 16 or 17. I think the smell of clay, plaster and wood was actually like going back to infancy, like a Proust madeleine.

You seem to have moved a lot during your youth, do you identify yourself with a certain place? 

I was born in the South of England, but if it was not for the war I would have been born in London. Some people are blessed with being born or living in certain place, and really identifying with that place as an artist, and that is really a strength. But I dont really belong anywhere. I come from an immigrant family, with a Jewish, Polish, Scottish, English, Italian melange. During my childhood, my parents and I kept moving in England, going to the North, then to the East, and then we went to Scotland. So I dont identify with a place. I identify, to quite a strong extend, with Europe.

Your parents have been important to you. As they were both artists, did you learn a lot from them?

Well, you learn all the way along. But yes, I learnt a lot from my parents. Mainly, about the philosophy of things. For example my mother once said: well, you are probably not as good as you think you are, but you are, as well, probably not as bad as you think you are. So, you really learn from growing up. Otherwise, I think in Edinburgh, I had very good training. I learnt important craft skills there, for instance we would draw from the Antique, from life models quite intensely, we learnt to carve wood as well as stone, and to carve letters and inscriptions.

What do you want to convey through your work?

I have the impression that the world is full of pain and unhappiness, beating each other, producing a lot fear. My own art is not an attempt to escape, but to say: 'there is also beauty, grace, and delight in life, lets celebrate it'. So underlying my work, there is this kind of sadness, I want to show this ambivalence. For example, if you love somebody, there is pain in loving somebody because there is always the potential of losing that person. So I want my work to show this awareness of happiness and unhappiness.

You make sculptures, paintings and prints. Does the difference of medium impact what you express?

It is difficult to be objective about that. I have different interests. All the drawings are done from life models. The ones that are displayed here at the Portico are not from the longest studies, they are the briefest, from 2 to 3 minutes. It makes me think that if you take a photograph, you would get everything, but if you have only a moment to put down the lines, you are being extraordinarily selective, there is no time for details: what is the absolute essence of the moment? The drawings explore that instantaneousness. Sculptures, you cannot do it in a moment. So you are kind of in a different frame of mind. I took prints more seriously only 10 years ago. It is like carving, because you still cut away the material that you dont want, to leave and to reveal the part that you do want. So it is very like stone carving. Though it is two dimensional, it is a carving process. So I dont know if I convey different things depending on the medium, but the relationship to time and process obviously change.

Who/what do you consider to be the main references in your art?

I prefer often an art that is more primitive, more brutal, naive in a way. I dont have a strong aptitude for figurative art, even though I can do it if necessary. I prefer to work in a simplistic and symbolistic way, more than a naturalist one. I would rather convey a relationship or a mood though my work. Obviously, there is some selection, but I would say that a lot of the 20th century artists influenced my work. I am not really a 21st century artist. I have been inspired by the art of Mexico, the art of the Incas, of Africans, and other people who have been inspired by this kind of thing, so artist such as Gauguin, Brancusi, Modigliani, and Picasso. And I am particularly pulled by sculpture, not that I like all the sculpture.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

Well I would say: never trust what an artist says, look at the art. I can have the aspiration to do something, but it only works through the person receiving it, if he/she receives something. As an artist, it is very touching when somebody picks up immediately what is going on. The artist may have a certain intention, but the viewer may see something different.

Monday, 9 March 2015


Titles: Essays and Reviews and On the Subjection of Women 

One of The Portico Library's members has sponsored the rebinding of two books, the first of which follows nicely from the previous post featuring Darwin's Journals from the H.M.S Beagle. Essays and Reviews was published not long after Darwin's seminal work, The Origin of Species and although it is less known in our time, it provoked a similar level of controversy in the 19th century. Another controversial and important text is featured here on the subject of the place of women in the social hierarchy during that same century. 

Many thanks to our contributor, who has given us a view of these two fascinating texts!

"I have chosen to adopt two books to remember two people of great importance to me.  They are, in order of publication, Essays and Reviews (1860) and J.S Mill On the Subjection of Women (1869).

Essays and Reviews is a collection of essays written by seven scholars, six of whom were Anglican clergymen, all of whom were connected with Oxford University. It caused a furore, was reprinted ten times in two years, attracted counterblasts in the shape of pamphlets was condemned by the two Archbishops and the two Convocations of the Church of England.  Two of the authors were convicted of heresy but were acquitted on appeal to the Privy Council.  

Why did it cause such uproar? It is the historic manifesto of liberal Anglicanism and challenged many orthodoxies. Its publication came six months after that of Darwin’s Origin of Species, which presented a major challenge to both conventional science as well as religious belief. One essay in Reviews by Baden Powell, the father of the founder of the Scouts, pays glowing tribute to Darwin’s The Origin of Species, because of its testimony to the ‘self-evolving powers of nature’. The final essay by Benjamin Jowett then Regius Professor of Greek, argues that the Bible should be read and interpreted ‘like any other book’, and more especially like any other ancient book – a view point which is still controversial in some circles. 

Within twenty years, liberalism had become acceptable. Jowett had become Master of Balliol College and a member of the establishment, famous for admonishing his students to ‘always verify your references’.  Frederick Temple (author of the first essay) became Archbishop of Canterbury and the father of William Temple who was also Archbishop of Canterbury and the author of Christianity and the Social Order which argued for a welfare state. But William Temple began his episcopal career as Bishop of Manchester

I have chosen this book to commemorate my father, Colin Lamont (1899-1984) who was a priest in the diocese of Manchester.  He was ordained by William Temple and hugely influenced by him.  My father was trained in the liberal Anglican tradition at theological college and flourished in that tradition (the board church tradition) in Manchester.  I was bought up in that tradition, both intellectually and theologically. Essays and Reviews is, therefore, the perfect book for me to have chosen to commemorate my father.

J.S. Mill’s The Subjection of Women (1869) is an astonishingly radical book for its time.  This is still the period when women were seen as subject to either their fathers or their husbands. The Married Woman’s Property Act, allowing women to own property had not yet been passed.  Women were seen as inferior and having limited capabilities. 

Mill's wrote [T]he legal subordination of one sex to another – is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement; and that it ought to be replaced by a system of perfect equality, admitting no power and privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other. Mill argues cogently for the equality of treatment of women and men and that we have no idea what women are capable of because they have been never allowed to develop and exercise their capacities. Moreover, he argues that women should have the vote and as an MP he advocated this position in Parliament. Women should be educated equally as well as men and a proper intellectual equality would lead to better marital relationships. To advocate the case for the emancipation of women in 1869 was incredibly adventurous and many years would elapse before his programme was realised. Mill’s book is a seminal text.

I have chosen this book to commemorate my late wife, Shauna Murray Lamont, who died prematurely at the age of 52 in 1993.  Shauna was a nineteenth century scholar, a Robert Browning specialist.  She was also an early feminist.  In 1969 when she was a nineteen year old second year university student in Western Canada, she wished to read honours English.  Male students were automatically admitted to the honours programme.  Women, however, had to be interviewed by the head of department, a bachelor who lived with his mother, and convince him that they weren’t frivolous and would go off and get married and have babies! From that point, she began to develop her feminism and the way that she read literature. She taught courses on women and literature. She was a near contemporary in age to Margaret Atwood and her own thinking and experience would follow the trajectory Atwood has followed in her writing. Shauna introduced her husband to these ideas and Mill’s The Subjection of Women is a book that she used in her teaching and introduced me to. Thus, it is the obvious book to adopt in her memory. There is a link between Essay and Reviews and Shauna Lamont.  One of the editors of the modern scholarly edition was William Whitla. Whitla was the external examiner for her doctoral thesis on Browning."