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Alchemy by the sea

PUBLISHED: 09:00 18 February 2014

Robert Manners, Where Red Meets White, (Seascape Refit, Collage14) 2013

Robert Manners, Where Red Meets White, (Seascape Refit, Collage14) 2013


Devon-based artist Robert Manners goes on show at Topsham’s The Art Room this month. Carol Burns catches up with the print-maker

"There is alchemy at work within his complex surfaces"

There is something rather beautiful about the work of Ashburton-based Robert Manners. It’s the kind of work that intrigues rather than shocks, teases rather than stuns, and the really clever part is that the work stays with you.

Describing himself as a multi-disciplinary print maker, Robert’s work incorporates paint, print and even embossed canvases that do away completely with colour, although look carefully and you can still imagine its presence.His work has been displayed recently by the Royal Society of Printmakers, at the artist-led ‘Container’ exhibition space in Bristol, which he helped to found, and as artist-in-residence at Kestle Barton in Cornwall. This latest exhibition will feature a range of work, but all concerned with a single enquiry: Seascapes.

The subject is one that is universal – especially in these parts and Robert wrestles with finding his own expression of the coastline and the sea. His life-long love of boats is a starting point for his enquiry, allowing him to become more than simply a beachside spectator of its grandeur. The results are abstract in nature while capturing something of the physical elements of the coast; think of engineering, of boats and navigational buoys.

Robert Manners in his studioRobert Manners in his studio

“The subject matter hasn’t changed,” he says of his work in recent years. “But the process is developing and changing all the time. There are two themes: I have been working on a series of work entitled seascape refits; it’s a generic title I have been using for several years. I’m not in any way trying to paint a representational picture or regurgitate something that’s been done. I am attempting to find a different way.

“I’m very much influenced by Plymouth – the boats, the engineering, the dockyards – my father was in the Navy and I grew up sailing. When you are on a boat you are looking at the coast, the harbours and the sea.

Within his work there is an alchemy at work within his surfaces, which are often complex and created over several layers.

“It’s quite a complex mixture of ideas that I am slowly picking through and making sense off and finding the language to render these ideas into an image. When things are going well it does feel like alchemy. There’s a certain amount of the unknown but I’m using methods and skills I know very well, and there is a sense of alchemy in putting those skills together and finding gold.

“The work is quite physical, the surface and texture is very important. Printmaking can be incredibly complicated; mindbogglingly complicated.”

The work is unequivocally ‘made’. His process uses screens, rather than stencils, often working on the floor, layering onto surfaces to create a collage-like effect, work he describes as ‘pivotal’.

Robert will be offering the opportunity to find out more about the alchemy of printmaking in a series of workshops in his studio later this year (visit

Seascape Refit by Robert Manners will be on display from 15 February to 16 March.

The Art Room, 8A The Strand Topsham,

EX3 OJB, 07718480604

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