An essay written in response to
Sightlines - an exhibition of 60 new paintings by David Mankin
24th August to 21st September 2019 at Cornwall Contemporary Gallery
Remembering in paint
'A painter is a kind of beachcomber’ Peter Lanyon
David Mankin’s work is about the pulse of the landscape. There is no attempt to mimic a pretty ‘view’, instead he explores the elemental impermanence of the unique Cornish topography. Mankin’s work goes beyond its obvious beauty and delves into the minutiae of rock pools on the foreshore, the incoming squall, the lash of a wave, the formation of lichen on granite. Emotion, drama, and his own personal love for the landscape surrounding his Cornish home and studio are present and connect you to his sense of place, but the work is never allowed to be sentimental. It expresses the fleeting nature of the elements; it surrounds natural concurrences or ‘happenings’ that the artist himself has found like an expert beachcomber.
In this new body of work, Mankin explores how our overlapping senses respond to being in the landscape. For the artist, landscape is something to be felt all the way through, exploring it bodily, seeing with touch, smell and sound. His fascination lies in how our minds are shaped by this sensory experience. The constantly moving texture of images and viewpoints offer him the unexpected: two natural aspects overlapping, folding into each other like rock layers; slides of a projector slotting into place to create a moment of creative clarity — his own sightline.
Moments of sensory experience are constantly recorded by sketch, photograph, but mostly memory, and then reconstructed back in his studio. Mankin explains, ‘I start off with an explosion of mark making, sensory fragments that I’ve picked up in the landscape.’ Often his starting point is a connection with a particular shape, colour concurrence, or an overwhelming feeling that overtakes and is allowed to spill out onto canvas. The initial, intuitive flow is followed by a considered process of refinement. Thought is given to balance in colour, line, tone, texture, and shape. The artist is committed to finding equilibrium within his composition, with dialogue between mark-making and passages of paint. Mankin then goes through a process of addition and subtraction: the surface is built up, scratched, removed, scraped, and further layers added, all punctuated by marks and lines and graffiti-like scribble. The surface becomes animated as historical layers are allowed to seep through.
In the space of one day, a painting may change completely, as elements or relationships are discovered. Buried glimpses of previous iterations echo the dark, abandoned lodes beneath the earth; the soaring flight of a gull on a windy day, becomes a sweeping brush mark; a tangle of fine sgraffito lines suggests the wind-blown branches of tamarisk at a cliff edge. Always, there is the underlying energy of the sea; at times an early morning milkiness, at others a raging elemental force. It is these senses or impressions that are inherent to Mankin’s work.The artist draws on these moments whilst working on his canvases. He is remembering in paint.
There is a delicate balance between realism and abstraction in Mankin’s paintings which leaves the viewer to look for the apparent within the abstract, compounding the compelling nature of his work. It was this reason that led to English Heritage selecting him to create a painting for the cover of their 2019/ 20 members handbook, the guide to over 400 of their historic sites such as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall. Mankin was commissioned to create his response to the iconic Cornish landmark, Tintagel Castle, a spectacular headland situated on the North Cornish Coast, attracting 250,000 visitors each year. The final piece titled ‘Passage’, is a painting that not only embodies his experience of Tintagel but also his ability to expertly communicate a sense of place.
Mankin’s paintings possess a powerful and compelling integrity, where his relationship between place and particular moments in time are being constantly explored. Words cannot convey their subtleties, they need to be seen ‘in the flesh’. One needs to stand in front of his paintings, taste the salt spray, smell the wild gorse on the cliff edge and feel the roaring Atlantic winds blasting the granite headlands.
Director, Cornwall Contemporary Gallery