Francophonic Illumination

‘Canvases From The French Countryside’ At Visceral Gallery

Through Thursday, June 17, the Visceral Gallery in Centerville has been transformed into a microcosm of Provence in France with the work of Richard Mantia. Radiating out from a central tableau of columns, vases and sunflowers, 30 recent acrylic paintings, some accompanied by pen and ink sketches, are on display by this remarkable artist who splits his time between the Dayton area and St. Remy-de-Provence.

Softly pervading the space is a soundtrack of French chanteurs and chanteuses including the venerable Charles Trenet as the viewer tours the artist’s thoughtful observations of his second chosen home. Mantia states that: “Quite simply, my paintings are a visual experience of the pleasure and inspiration I find looking at the fascinating light on the 
environment around me.” This light 
is the same which illuminated the 
visions and landscapes of such luminaries as Van Gogh and other post-Impressionists.

Mantia is a native New Yorker who studied at the Arts Student League and Pratt Art Institute where he attained his M.F.A. after a B.F.A. from Western Kentucky University. His diverse previous experience included being a set designer in Hollywood, an instructor of painting and drawing in Louisville as well as being one of the great masters of faux painting in the Dayton area in the 1980s.

The current exhibition of “Canvases from the French Countryside” includes gardens, public squares, cafés, markets, landscapes, and personal moments. Broad strokes of white are like snowy leaves over angular rows of trunks in “Jardins de Normandie,” as well as on the “Almond Trees of St. Remy” lining the perspective of the brown road. Mantia’s technique is both quick and dense, giving body to most fleeting impressions.

“Road to Les Baux” is capped by soaring canopies paralleling an ancient chateau, and the shower of silvery green-blue leaves caps the contrasting field through red blooms of “Olive Trees and Poppies.” A tall tree towers over the “Road to Gordes” passing by distant hills, and a row of red-trunked trees frames distant purple mountains in “The Apèlies.” The bright blue “Canal Du Réal Du Molléges” flows at an angle between trees, and two figures appear at tables in the shaded woods in “Picnic Les Baux.”

In addition, the beneficent ghost of Van Gogh hovers over several of Mantia’s images, and fuses a freedom of spirit with the brilliant light of Provence. Van Gogh’s work flourished in Arles where he envisioned a community of artists, but his epileptic syndrome brought him to nearby St. Remy as a voluntary patient at St. Paul-de-Mausole. A loping hilly structure in autumnal tones and an accompanying pen-and-ink sketch by Mantia captures Van Gogh’s Hospital, the tri-part sketch with its colonnade notated: “The cloister still sounds the echo of your steps, Vincent.”

The social life of St. Remy fills the cafés with colorful figures. A tall dark arboreal presence frames the “Café with Plane Tree” with orange and gold awnings under blue shutters, further amplified in the sketch “Flower Market under Plane Trees.” “Midi with Friends” has rows of tables under the same awnings, and all eyes are on the regal dark figure of “Monsieur Remy serving.” Serving figures and two crowded rows of tables are seen in the pen-and-ink “Le March Bistro,” notated by the artist as the “Bistro next to our home.”

The Mantia’s house in town is seen in the townscape “Boulevard Mirabeau” opposite the row of knobby plane trees, all of which appear in one of Van Gogh’s paintings. Personal moments are captured in such pieces as “Tea with Henriette” with its pink tablecloth and matching flowers around a blue tea service under a flowering tree, and the lounging figure looking out off a balcony in “Reposer” with wine glasses for two and flowers on the table.

A curving walk by a river flows under the “Bridge to Maussane” with an accompanying sketch, a red Citroen sits before an opening in thick roads in “Deux Chevaux,” and the purple snow-crested “Mount Tam” is seen beyond the four trees surrounding a balustraded pool by a chateau. Red-tiled roofs surmount towers on a succulent encrusted hill in “On the Med,” and “Mount Ventour” crowns the masses of red roofs and tall bare trees of a crowded village.

A white-aproned maitre d’ services tables in a close-up at “Bar Tabac,” shopping figures crowd around the fruit-filled bins of “St. Remy Market,” and a closed white umbrella towers over tables where red-bloused people sit at “Le Café” beneath tall buildings and a patch of blue sky. Mantia’s French world is a genial, ebullient piece of the illuminated planet.

The Visceral Gallery is located at 65 West Franklin St., Centerville. Gallery hours are Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. For more information, call (937) 409-0069 or visit www.FrancineRiley.com/Visceral.html

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