Arts & Culture » Visual Art

Mood, Light and Heroes

Manwaring gallery displays local artist's wide-ranging interests and talents


The Studio and Fine Art Gallery of Mark Manwaring has its grand opening Friday, January 26. Manwaring has achieved national prominence with his depictions of firefighters and others engaged in emergency services. His work has been featured in city halls, in fire stations, on posters and on coffee cups. A brief search of the Internet produces numerous sites where his prints may be ordered. You may see many of the originals right here, on 8th Street in BoDo.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are immediately struck by the contrast of the paintings on display. Of eye-catching immediacy is a portrayal of firefighters hauling up a comrade who has fallen through a burning floor into the inferno below. The rescuers are standing on the same charred boards that failed before. Will the one be saved or are they all doomed? The drama is all right there.

A few feet away is a tranquil scene of a man fly-fishing in a cool mountain stream. Manwaring admits the paintings show different aspects of his personality and make different demands of the viewer.

In his portrayal of emergency services personnel, he wants them to be "heroic and look good." That means the pictures are often more clear than the reality they attempt to show. There is no smoke or heat waves to obscure the emotional heart of the pictures. The firefighters are cleaner and sometimes posed in positions no actual person would assume, all to better tell a wordless story of daily bravery.

The still lifes of equipment and clothing are painstakingly realistic.

The peaceful side of the artist is shown in landscapes that emphasize "mood and light." The pictures range from impressionistic sunsets to a haunting night time portrait of the BoDo District itself. A recently completed cityscape of the state Capitol looks better than the actual building.

Manwaring uses oils heavily applied with brushes and a palate knife to give a solid texture to his work.

He said his goal in his landscapes is to provide a mood, allowing the viewer's emotions to be involved with the scene. It seemed to work on me as I watched the fisherman mentioned above. The trees seemed solid above a swirling, rippling stream. I was ready to join the angler and try my luck.

Manwaring seems happy with that interpretation of his work. "When actual fire fighters come into the gallery they want to buy the cool mountain scenes. It's their wives who buy the prints of fires. The guys want to get away from work," he said.

The Mississippi native came to Boise 12 years ago. His affinity for firefighters was developed during 10 years in the Air Force in fire rescue. The subsequent influences of Idaho are apparent in his landscapes and cityscapes.

The largest picture in the gallery is a huge copy of a painting of a French cavalry officer, originally completed in 1815. Napoleon's imperial ambitions lasted longer than the restaurateur who commissioned it. The painting now hangs in the gallery as an example of a sort of thing that is heroic but not particularly appealing to a modern audience.

More subtly, a previous tenant had painted one section of the gallery's brick wall white. Manwaring repainted each individual brick red so they matched the rest of the walls. That dedication to an aesthetic ideal is continued in the details of how the paintings are presented.

The frames around the pictures in the gallery are often heavier and more ornate than is common in many modern galleries. Manwaring's idea is to give the painting a solid reference point as a work of art. In the gallery, the overall effect is that of a quiet place where art is taken seriously and is meant to be felt as well as seen.

The prints titled "The Silent Heroes" sell nationally and are a source of income and renown, He and his wife, Darcy, have been working for months to prepare their grand opening. He actively paints in the gallery and encourages people to come in, browse and watch him work. He works on commission for homes and offices. He is also happy to paint portraits from photographs or, as he prefers, from life.

"All artists dream of having their own gallery," Manwaring said.

The Studio and Fine Art Gallery of Mark Manwaring is located at 409 S. 8th Street in BoDo, Boise. Gallery hours are Tues.-Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. For more information, call 208-353-4864 or 208-353-4912.