Exhibition | The Light Orchard by Guy Manning

Eloise Williams attended the Tenby Museum and Art Gallery to witness an exhibition by Guy Manning, The Light Orchard.

On a fair weather day Tenby museum may attract passing tourists and is undoubtedly lucky in its position for footfall and location. On a night such as this, however, a Goya-esque painting wouldn’t be out of place to sum up the climate, such is the wind, rain and sea squall. The less than determined art collector or fan, myself included, might have been drawn by the glowing light of the nearest tavern for a warming tipple rather than  battling step by windblown step to the (almost) summit of Castle Hill. As Guy Manning himself puts it; ‘It’s been blowing a Gale Force Six on the opening night of both shows, and I thought I’d be clutching my third glass of wine waiting for someone to show up. But both exhibitions have been very busy, and have sold really well, too. Not that that’s the only raison d’etre, but, well, I do paint for a living these days.’

And indeed he does, for he is about to wave a fond farewell to his teaching post at a local high school as he takes up the brush as a full time artist. His sales have enabled him to follow this path and rightly so for this is an exhibition of light and joy that one observer likened to opening a window onto summer.

‘Heat and Dust’, a large oil which catches the eye on entering the gallery provides an immediate contrast with the creeping dark of the outside, making the senses leap with the hope of another summer yet to come. Here are cobalt blues layered onto intense Prussians in a sky which speaks of a building heat pressure. An intensity ready to burst with heavy rain, ready to shake the drowsy sun-bleached grasses, about to soak the scents from slumbering Umbels. ‘Tangled up in Blue’, named after the Bob Dylan song, is a waltz into woodland Wales and at the risk of sounding twee, which the work resoundingly isn’t, speaks of Tylwyth Teg and folk tale. Its romantic subject matter isn’t a nostalgic or sentimental take on rustic days of yore, rather a modern representation of the beauty beheld in places.

‘A Day in Llanstephan’ brings us to memories of sunny hours shimmering with motes of dancing pollen; we are envious of a dawn missed in ‘The Sun Climbs the Trees’, a row of Poplars, no outlines, light and leaves interspersed. What Guy Manning terms as ‘squinting into the sun’ is actually a magnificent capturing of a certain second painted in a million points of light. The photograph we wish we had taken. The moment we wish we could carry with us forever.

This is a style of painting rarely seen in contemporary Western practice, and is easily overlooked. There is so much headline chasing in the art world, so many artists pimping their persona that a form of impressionism like Manning’s is a whisper of beauty too often drowned out by the loud screech of ‘boundary breaking’.

Guy Manning is well versed in French painting, talking in particular about his favourite paintings in Paris (in the relatively modest but charming Parisian gallery, the Musee Marmottan near the Bois de Bologne) by Henri Le Sidaner: ‘Nothing is still, not the leaves, the light in the gaps between them, nor the reflections, the turquoise riverbanks, nothing. It’s mesmeric, it’s almost like a heat haze manifest in paint.’

Similarly the atmosphere in the gallery is warm, convivial, busy. His years as an art teacher are reflected in his wide appeal. The youngest person to acquire a painting at the show was eleven and the eldest threatened to sue if I put their name in print! Guy Manning wants his work to be accessible to everyone, without the need for decoding or written explanation at the entrance. Yet the paintings are not simplistic, neither do they patronise.

Not all of the show is balmy; as always in Wales the seasons are as unpredictable as the people, changing from moment to moment in wild skies. Anyone who holidayed in West Wales as a child will remember the chase towards the parents’ promise of a patch of blue. More often, and please allow for some hiraeth here, we would rejoice in the darker, malevolent elements I saw at work in his paintings, make dens in the shadows of Manning’s ‘Silent Hedges’ and catching raindrops on our tongues in the humorously titled ‘Woods after Rain (again)’.

Not being the type of man to crow about his work, Guy Manning has built up a quiet reputation whilst exhibiting in galleries across the UK, France, Germany and New York and his work is held in private collections in these countries amongst others.

The future is multi-coloured for Guy. He has a residency at the National Trust’s Colby Woodland Gardens where he has a solo exhibition next year, permission to land on Caldey Island as and when he pleases to work there, and is currently represented by The Lion Street Gallery in Hay-on-Wye and White Lion Gallery in Tenby.

Visit www.guymanning.co.uk