In the Studio: Peter Manion


1. Please describe your work.

My works are process-driven and deal with the transformative force of art making. I use a variety of non-traditional materials, including Vaseline, vinyl stickers, plaster, and felt, which allow my work to have a bold, frenetic quality completely open to interpretation by the viewer.

Though traditionally a painter, I have expanded my visual and conceptual literacy; experimenting with sculptural materials and surfaces, I am moved to create works that can exist outside of the traditional studio walls. As this body of work has evolved, my practice has shifted from canvas to felt and plaster – and has a much more minimalist feel. The process still commands an action-based approach, similar to my 2D work, but the application of plaster to felt, color spraying, and the rolling and tumbling of the piece once dried is sequential, but not systematic.

Concepts of decay and senescence, and the preciousness of art are challenged with these works. Viewers are encouraged to interact with the sculptures, to reconfigure their placement on the floor or reposition them on the gallery walls.

My sculptures bridge the gap between 2D and 3D. Each is transformative, yielding to the notion that art can move and be boundless without the fear of losing its place.


2. What does your work aim to say?

I try to convey the ideas of perception and the preconceived notions the viewer brings with them when encountering my work. For example, my sculptures look heavy and hardened like rock. But once the audience interacts with the work (which I encourage), they see that they are pliable and movable. It imparts the question, “How do we get past our own biases when encountering something we see or experience?”

For me, being an artist is the journey of finding new forms of expression, while at the same time not blocking what another person may find in their own story in it.


3. Who or what are your artistic influences and what have you learned from them?

I’ve had many artistic influences throughout my life. As a kid, it was the big names like Matisse, Picasso. Then Diebenkorn, Jasper Johns, Pollock, and Rauschenberg – very much the western European/American artists. These influences very much had a connection to my mother’s sensibilities. She was a painter and collected artwork herself. So I was also exposed to the Spanish and French painters, such as Goya and Delacroix.

Now, I’ve moved away from the traditional artists and look to mostly contemporary artists that use materials in a different way and have a different point of view with image-making. I’m drawn to Sam Gilliam, who I feel has similar work to my own, and Kara Walker, whose work I love for the storytelling and duality of beauty and horror in her subject matter.


4. How has social media affected your studio practice?

So much! Social media provides an awareness of other artists – what they’re doing, how their work is similar, what they’re doing differently. Seeing others’ work helps me grow tremendously as an artist. When I see similarities in another’s work, it validates my practice – feeding my energy and giving me the confidence I need as an artist to keep pushing my own creative envelope.

I believe that social media has also kept me authentic in my practice. I don’t try to alter my images, and in doing so, I’m presenting to my audience – and myself – my work in an honest and very self-baring way.

Like all tools, social media can be overused and abused, but by showing my work and snippets of my works-in-progress, it helps to shape and develop the creative landscape and connect with the art community. Seeing art in this unexpected aspect keeps things exciting and, I feel, can open the door to opportunities that wouldn’t be available without this medium.


5. What internal and external factors motivate your conceptual choices?

A common thread that runs through my conceptual choices often happens when I’m installing my works in a show. Working and talking with other artists and curators. I’ve been very open to any and all opportunities and where this path may lead, which is sometimes very random. It’s as if something has been set in motion a very long time ago, and it affects the work as I’m doing it.



6. How do you know when a work is finished?

I just know. I live with it. I have other people see it. However, I never know it’s done the day that it is finished.

Experience has helped me with that. I’ve learned from my mistakes of overworking a piece. I also make a lot of work – in a way, I flush out the creative crap to get to the good stuff and know when to stop.


7. What are you listening to or reading at the moment?

As far as reading, I tend to read more blogs and art criticisms than fiction or more non-traditional nonfiction. I’m a big fan of The White Pube (, which is a collaborative identity of Gabrielle de la Puente and Zarina Muhammad. They write criticisms and publish podcasts, mostly exhibition reviews that take away the overly academic/boring/white male nonsense that we see too often in the art world.

I’m also working my way through Glittering Images : A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars by Camille Paglia, which explores visual art from ancient to modern times.

With music, I listen to anything and everything. Jazz, rap, latin. I’m studying Spanish, so I listen to a lot of Spanish blogs and podcasts. There’s a great one called Slow Spanish News where they speak slowly so it’s easier for the learner to understand.


8. Can you speak to your own relationship to risk and sacrifice, and what risks have you taken?

A huge sacrifice for me was giving up art and starting a new career (years ago). At the time, I needed to put my family first, which meant sacrificing my own dreams of the future and my identity as an artist. To say that art is over was a huge sacrifice.

Now that I’ve been back, there’s no risk or sacrifice. Risk and sacrifice was early on, with the pain and agony I sustained in those early years. But now, I’m taking on new challenges and doing it on my own terms with a fresh eye.

Being an artist is a wonderful career to be in. I don’t take things too seriously – failure is part of the game. Someone I worked with during my residency in Vermont gave me great advice, “Aim high and you’re going to go high. If you aim low, you’re going to get low.”


9. What is the role of the artist in society?

The role of the artist is the filter. We filter what’s happening in society, what we don’t want to see and the subjects that many want to censor – the politics, sexism, misogyny. Artists must stand firm in shining a light on these issues.

When I was young, my mother took me to the Mapplethorpe exhibition in Cincinnati, and it changed my life. To imagine that anyone would want to censor such breathtaking work is bullshit. Thinking about that exhibition still gives me chills with its beauty and powerful presence.

Artists must work to keep the conversation going with current events, and use it as a way to push the artistic limits.


10. What piece of advice has influenced you the most?

1 – Don’t ever approach a gallery. Let them come to you.

2 – Be in the studio and make work.

3 – Be a nice person. Treat everyone with respect. You never know what you can learn from them and what opportunities may arise from your relationship with them.


11. What’s the most ridiculous fact you know?

The differences in trees based on climate and geographical location. Leaves are like the skin of a tree, releasing and holding the water they need to survive. In the Southern Hemisphere (where it’s very humid), the leaves need to be very large to release the water the trees have. And in the Northern Hemisphere, the leaves are very thin (think of pine trees). They’re thin to help them retain their water.


View more of Peter’s work here.