Interview | Ilana Manolson | Chance Encounters
Apr 26, 2019
Ilana Manolson, First snow, 2018-2019, acrylic on yupo paper on board, 28.5 x 24.5 in © the artist, courtesy of Cadogan Contemporary
Inspired by the fluidity and evolution of nature, the acclaimed Canadian American artist Ilana Manolson expresses both a personal and abstract interpretation of the natural world in her paintings. Her first London exhibition, Chance Encounters features over 20 paintings illustrating the movement, change, and fragility of life and nature. In the lead up to the exhibition opening at Cadogan Contemporary, Jenna Sachs caught up with the artist to find out more about her artistic and personal relationship with nature.
Nature has played an important role in both the development of your career as an artist and in your personal life. Can you elaborate on how this journey has inspired your work?
When I was young, we moved to Montreal and we spent weekends in the Laurentians where the forests are thick and I spent considerable time hiking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There, I learned to navigate by looking closely at the growth of the forest floor. After a year in Fiji working for the Canadian government after high school, I studied botany & art at Dawson and Goddard Colleges.
I took my first job as a naturalist at Parks Canada Western Region where I returned to my roots in Alberta. At Elk Island National Park, I was asked to look closely at the landscape to ascertain the health of the park as a site for bison. My colleagues and I did so by repeatedly observing 1’ by 1’ squares of land. I was struck by the nature of Elk Island, which was intended to preserve itself as a snapshot in time. Yet, the only thing that is constant in nature is change, evolution.
As an interpreter of nature for park visitors, I started making large puppets. A supportive, understanding boss allowed me to replace didactic talks with various kinds of lively, artistic presentations. After I had transformed my office into what was effectively an art studio, I realized that I needed to study art and left to study printmaking and painting at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). I had my first shows at Brown University and a private art gallery in Providence upon graduation.
Ilana Manolson, Early ice, 2018, acrylic on yupo paper on board, 11in x 14in © the artist, courtesy of Cadogan Contemporary
I moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts upon graduation from RISD and became a partner of a printmaking studio called Artist’s Proof, which has been recognized for its influence on the development of printmaking in the Boston area. I was fortunate to be represented immediately by a gallery in what was then the high-end gallery area and had my first solo show after a couple of years.
Since moving to Concord, Massachusetts, I walk outside every day (and kayak and cycle) and have been painting from nature ever since. But, I have returned to one of my core themes: what is consistent and what changes in nature. I return to the same places year after year. I used to be an interpreter of nature at the National Parks and now I am an interpreter of nature in my paintings. My paintings are figurative and abstract, as they draw on my impressions of nature and yet are my own abstracted interpretation of what I experience in nature.
The word nature is derived from the Latin word natura, and literally means “birth”. Nature is constantly shifting between rebirth and death I love to watch the process. Hiking allows me to experience nature and to anchor myself in place and time. My images deal with natural life, death and rebirth. The chance encounters with the elements – the milkweed blowing, the fiddlehead unfurling, the rain on the pond – all enable me to tell the larger story of the land.
You spend a lot of time in nature but your paintings are created in the studio from memory, perhaps you could tell us more about your working process?
I hike daily, and return to my studio to paint the sum of my understanding of the landscape. I combine different scenes as well as different moments, conveying my sense of how they connect, how different landscapes impact each other, giving weight to elements of nature I remember and editing others. I reach into my pocket and use the rocks, acorns, and flowers that have travelled back with me from my hikes to anchor a piece, distorting the scene to capture the essence.
Your paintings combine both abstract and figurative elements which challenge traditional depictions of nature in art. What do you hope for visitors to take away from this exhibition?
I would like the viewer to understand that nature is not fixed but is fluid and always evolving. My marks suggest the constant movement and change that happens in nature, the fragility of life, and the glory of transitions.
As you began your career as a painter over twenty years ago, your work must have changed and adapted to the world around you. Can you elaborate on how your practice has developed over time?
I used to paint en plein air, taking paints, board, and easel outside to be true to the scene in front of me. Painting day after day at the same site, it became clear to me that what I wanted to paint was not a fixed and constant scene. The light shifted, the weather changed, the leaves fell; from moment to moment it was not the same place. I watched pond turn to meadow, meadow to forest and forest to concrete. I wanted to capture that. I have been expanding the context not just in terms of time but also space and causality.
Your work is greatly rooted in the tradition of 19th Century Romanticism. Is there any particular artist that you look to for inspiration?
I have a huge crush on Per Kirkeby’s work for his sense of color and his ability to let his marks stand in for the geology of the land.
Ilana Manolson, Yala, 2018-2019, acrylic on yupo paper on board, 37in x 48in © the artist, courtesy of Cadogan Contemporary
As this exhibition is your first show in London, you must be very excited! How does it feel displaying your work in such an iconic city?
I am very excited to be able to show at the Cadogan Contemporary gallery. It is a gallery that shows very interesting art that I respect. I am happy to be included in their stable of artists. I have always loved London as a city and have visited many times.
Do you have any other exciting projects coming up?
I am presently working on a show for the Jason McCoy Gallery in New York. I am also excited about working with well-known architect Maryann Thompson on a project at Walden Pond, a pond near my home in Concord, that first received attention in 1845 when philosopher Henry David Thoreau chose to live deliberately in nature by its side.
Chance Encounters is open until 10 May 2019 at Cadogan Contemporary, London. For more information, visit: www.cadogancontemporary.com/exhibition/ilana-manolson-chance-encounters
Words by Jenna Sachs.
The Boston Voyager, December 18, 2018
Today we’d like to introduce you to Ilana Manolson.
Ilana, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
I was born in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, which sits at the edge of the Rockies where you learn to read the vast open sky to see what the weather will be. When I was young, we moved to Montreal and we spent weekends in the Laurentians where the forests are thick. There, I learned to navigate by looking closely at the growth of the forest floor. My two passions, being outside and art, were separate. After a year in Fiji working for the Canadian government after high school, I studied botany at Dawson and Goddard Colleges. While I was in Vermont, I worked as a puppeteer and made larger than life-size puppets for Bread and Puppet Theater. I took my first job as a naturalist at Parks Canada Western Region where I returned to my roots in Alberta….
The Metrowest Daily News, Published November 18, 2012 by Chris Bergeron, Daily News Staff
Herman Melville, who chased real and imaginary whales, once said, “True places are never’’ found on any map. That might help explain Ilana Manolson’s fragmented chart composed of scraps of old maps and plaster, clumps of earth and ivy roots that covers two gallery walls in the Danforth Museum and School of Art.Read More
Artscope, September 1, 2010, by J. Fatima Martins
Approaching Manolson’s abstracted landscape paintings is a sensual experience — you’ll feel an immediate rush of attraction to and comfortable recognition of overlapping details mimicking rich organic life. Her style is quickly assessed — a blend of impressionistic color tones and gestural expressionism pulled together, evoking obvious themes. There are seasons in transition, vegetation at various levels of growth and decay, and the alternate movement of water and light exposing and concealing views within a swampy forest canopy — comfortable subject matter lulling you into a pleasant state of mind.Read More
Susan and Kurt
Ilana Manolson's recent show at Jason McCoy surprised me. At first glance I was prepared to dislike it, the super heated color and oily feel of the paint put me off. But the more I looked the more I was drawn in.
Realist elements combined with fields of color abstraction give a riotous picture of the chaos of nature…Read More
Artsake May 15, 2009
Ilana Manolson (MCC Painting Fellow ‘08) took a few moments to talk with ArtSake about her work and life.
What artists work do you admire most but paint nothing like? I really like Joan Snyder’s work because I feel like it is deeply personal, rich, and extremely brave work. And in my studio I have written on the wall, simplify, focus, and be brave. Her work, although I feel like it is nothing like mine, does that in a very personal way.Read More
MetroWest Daily News, Published March 30, 2006 by Chris Bergeron
Taking a "frog's eye view," Ilana Manolson's paintings capture nature's fecund profusion in a small patch of her back yard.
The Concord artist mixes rich radiant colors to observe the ephemeral beauty of a clump of skunk cabbage or sunlight reflected of a weedy pond.
Manolson's recent paintings meld her earlier career as a botanist with an Impressionist's infatuation with the play of light on nature.Read More
Art New England Online, Published February 4, 2006 by Meredith Fife Day
When curator Ilana Manolson talks about this show, she refers as often to the "dance" between painting and printmaking as she does to the dialogue. The distinction between the two, and the inclusion of both, gives unity as well as enormous range to the work of the six artists exhibited. Manolson's own work as both a painter and printmaker gives a pronounced sensitivity to the excitement of process, this exhibit's ascendant theme.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published October 21, 2005 by Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondant
Ilana Manolson, better known as a printmaker, is showing her paintings at Clark Gallery - and they reveal a printmaker's touch. Painters build light by layering colors; printmakers let the light shine by leaving their plates bare and letting the paper show through. Manolson uses both techniques. In taking a frog's-eye view of pond life, putting us amid the reeds and water, she uses her paint the way she might use ink in a monotype, ranging from watery washed to more opaque, cleanly articulated forms.Read More
The Concord Journal, March 6, 2003
Ilana Manolson, a nationally recognized artist who lives and works in Concord, is having three shows in March. Two shows in Lincoln and Concord contain a Series of paintings she has made standing in the same spot at Macone's Pond in Concord, observing the water's edge in different seasons, different lights and different weather conditions. She says, "By staying in the same spot day after day, I find I get to see the surprises and the changes. I see the ups and down of pond life from a frog's eye view."Read More
Published March 2, 2001 by Cate McQuaid, Globe Staff
It's easy to conjure up the romantic image of an artist in his or her garret, toiling away alone to turn inspiration into art. Printmakers who rely on big presses to make their work don't often have that luxury of solitude. They invest with other artists in cooperative studios, where many people have access to the machinery of their medium. They end up having a different luxury: community.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published February 16, 2000 by Christine Temin, Globe Staff
What unites the solo shows two Boston artists at Clark Gallery - monoprints and paintings by Ilana Manolson and glazed stoneware vessels by Bruce Barry - is their shared organic quality. Manolson, who uses everyday objects to express emotional states, and whose exploding house series of many years ago suggested a world of disorder, here focuses on a simple flower bulb. Her world, the image suggests, has calmed down.Read More
Art New England, Published August 1, 1996 by Susan Maluski
Usually inanimate objects ascend, soar, rotate, and gyrate in Ilana Manolson's The Unstill Life, this accomplished artists fifth one-person show at the Randall Beck Gallery. In this likable exhibition, Manolson uses ordinary kitchen objects to show the motion and emotion of everyday life. The artist explains, "I try to capture the fragile balance of competing demands, as stacked plates or bowls strain to avoid falling." This kinetic crockery, with its connotation of home and hearth, captures the imbalance, upheaval, and strain of the domestic realm.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published April 25, 1996 by Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondant
"Unstill Life," Ilana Manolson's show of monoprints at the Randall Beck Gallery, could alternately be titled "The Secret Life of Bowls." These prints, swirling with light and breathtaking color, take the domestic subject of many still lifes and set it spinning. The artist suggests in her statement that her works address the chaos of real life that belies the fragile order of a well-stocked china cabinet, but the sheer beauty of her images brings them head and shoulders above any frank discussion of disorder in the realm of magic.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published July 21, 1994 by Nancy Stapen
Summer is the slowest time of the year in the galleries. One word that comes to mind is “barren”. Not at Howard Yezerski’s, though, where a show called “Nine Months: Art and Pregnancy” presents an unusual fertile offering.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published March 25, 1993
In her show of oil paintings and monotypes at the Randall Beck Gallery, Ilana Manolson continues her explorations of geometric forms in space. Previous works depicted cubes and spheres exploding into asymmetrical forms, suggesting degeneration and chaos. This series is more optimistic; the forms seem less driven by frenetic, out-of-control impulses, more in tune with nature's harmony.Read More
The Boston Globe, Published May 9, 1991 by Nancy Stapen
From skyscrapers to the ubiquitous black box, geometric units are such an intrinsic part of our experience, we hardly give them a moment's thought. But these primary organizers of space - in both the natural and manmade worlds - are the traditional building blocks of artists. The minimalism of the '60s, which venerated reduced geometric form at the expense of all embellishment, represents something of an apotheosis of this tendency; it remains a touchstone for many artists today.Read More
Published April 25, 1991 by Christine Temin
Ilana Manolson's art has an unsettled quality: in the past, one of her main subjects has been boxes---captured mid-explosion suggesting the end of a little world. Along with the sense of unease, though, there has been lusciousness to her work, thanks to her handling of paint, pastel and paper….Read More
The Boston Globe, Published November 1, 1988 by Christine Temin, Globe Staff
Teasing contradictions about space lurk in liana Manolson's big pastel/collage pieces, at the Randall Beck Gallery, 168 Newbury St-., through October 15. Manolson presents fractured architecture in these new works that are larger and less coy than her earlier ones. She once did charming little paper pieces that depicted exploding boxes; now she's more interested in stairwells, and her work is the more powerful for the shift in scale. She's now capable of creating swirling, hallucinatory spaces, filled with flying staircases that go unanchored to floors: To climb these stairs is to walk the plank.Read More