Pop and past superimposed

By Sarah Gianelli EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – A dozen years ago, when artist Holly Manneck started spending summers on a ranch outside of White Sulphur Springs, the aesthetic of her work shifted dramatically.

Then an abstract artist originally from Vermont who had settled in Naples, Florida, Manneck felt captivated by the foreignness of her Western surroundings.

“There were cowboys riding down the road with cows and sheep,” she said. Although Manneck has traveled extensively and lived in Europe and exotic locales like the Cayman Islands, she had never encountered such a lifestyle within the United States.

“You have to be so strong to carve out a life out West,” she said. “You have to drive three hours to go to the grocery store … it was so different from what I had known. All of it impacted me. It made me think about art differently. It made me think about people differently.”

Inspired by imagery that felt completely “fresh” to her, Manneck began taking photographs of the town—buildings, fire hydrants, people—but wasn’t sure how she was going to approach them artistically.

She ended up finding a way to merge her background in graphic design and fine art with her love of photography, which evolved into the multi-media paintings she makes today—a superimposition of vintage imagery and contemporary commentary with a pop aesthetic.

“It’s the new Western art,” she said. “The imagery may be in a contemporary mode but you can still recognize the Western theme.”

Intrigued by this idea of layering past and present, Manneck searches for historical images from a time that interests her and combines them with her own photographs to create a digital montage. She then applies it to an art panel using a monotype process. Using that digital collage as a base layer, she builds it up into something more painterly with silk screening, acrylic paint and ink.

After figuring out “the how,” Manneck was able to grow into her style and embed more subtleties—or what she calls “soul”—into her works.

Manneck often infuses her historical or vintage imagery with messaging related to the contemporary world. Many of her pieces touch on themes of female empowerment, and feature women that range from iconic purse-lipped Marilyn Monroes to cowgirls, ski patrollers and Wonder Woman.

She is currently starting a series in which historical images of Native Americans are overlaid with social media icons.

Whether featuring bathing beauties, rodeo queens or cowboys, Manneck’s paintings combine vintage imagery, pop culture icons, and modern-day commentary in a pop art aesthetic.

“It’s everywhere; we can’t get away from it,” Manneck said. “Warhol would’ve done it—he would’ve had a field day with it. I’m always trying to push the envelope in a meaningful way.”

Manneck believes that intermingling past and present allows different demographics to connect with her art.

She recalled a painting she did called “Mister Softee,” in which two women sit on blocks of ice eating ice cream cones. The piece resonated so strongly with an older gentleman who had worked on ice block delivery trucks for 20 years, that he bought it—despite Manneck’s impression that he probably didn’t buy art very often.

“The way he connected with that piece made my heart twinge,” Manneck said. “People bring their own stories to the work. There’s a human quality to the old photos; a simplicity, and [a reference to] simpler times that I think brings a sense of relaxation. The colors are bold but the imagery is peaceful.”

She uses color to convey the sensory experience of the scene. For instance, for “Rodeo Queen”—a tribute to 1920s rodeo legend Vera McGinnis—she used a palette of hot yellows to make the viewer imagine what those cowboys and cowgirls must’ve felt, dressed from head to toe in a dusty arena with the summer sun beating down.

She said younger people might connect more with her comic book-pop imagery, humorous content, or Warhol-esque celebrity pieces of rock stars like David Bowie or Mick Jagger. They may also related to her subtle commentary on socially relevant issues.

For Manneck, all of her artwork is about connection—about breaking things down to be able to see that ultimately, “the complexity of life reveals we are all simply human.”

“The more you travel, the more you see we are all really the same,” Manneck said, speaking of an awareness she also attributes to holding a degree in social work. “No matter what year we were born or what cultural background we come from, we’re all pretty much the same.”

Manneck’s work can be found at Gallatin River Gallery in Big Sky Town Center and at By Word of Mouth in the Westfork Plaza. Visit hollymanneck.com to see more of the artist’s work.