At times, artwork can speak messages that mere words cannot convey. Adjunct Professor Dylan McManus uses his artistic practice to critique social issues prevalent in today’s society.
McManus’ work is currently a part of an exhibition at The Printmaking Center of New Jersey (PCNJ) called “Mad Men,” in which he and artist Bob Craig create prints that share their respective political commentaries as tools for social change.
McManus said the PCNJ contacted him about participating in a two-person exhibition and were interested in featuring his work as a representation of a “new school” way of making prints.
He said the current Visiting Professor in the SUNY Printmaking Program and the artistic director of the PCNJ, Sheila Goloborotko, thought his work would be perfect for the concept of the two-person exhibition the center had slated; the exhibition would feature two male artists working with political subject matter who also happen to have an obsessive or “mad” process they utilize for creating their works.
“Each series looks critically at various social issues prevalent in our society today. Issues spanning everything from diamond wars in Africa to unemployment within our local community are considered within the series featured in this exhibition,” McManus said. “The thing that unites all of the works is not only the social commentary but the fact that my use of materials and process directly inform the content contained within each individual piece.”
McManus’ work featured in this exhibition contains selections from three separate bodies of work spanning the last seven years of his artistic practice. With 28 pieces in the exhibition, mostly produced in 2014, “Mad Men” is the largest collection of his art shown in the United States since 2007.
In “Portraits of Recession,” one of the series within the exhibition, McManus focuses on the collapse of the global economy in 2008 and how it resulted in severe unemployment for young, recently-graduated Americans. He laser-engraved the portraits of both unemployed and under-employed members of the community on the surface of dollar bills that banks refused, turning them into pieces of artwork.
In another series, McManus appropriated portraits of child soldiers who fight in resource wars in Africa and printed their portraits using natural diamond ground into a fine granule.
“Material is really important to me, the material speaks as much to my subject as does the image,” McManus said. “In the case of the gunpowder portraits, the series focuses on returning veterans from the War on Terror, I draw portraits of them in gunpowder and I light the powder on fire to create the final piece. The residue of the burn and the ashes is what draws the portraits.”
Linda Helm Krapf, the executive director at the PCNJ, said there is tension and breadth within the exhibition, between McManus using the newest, most cutting-edge printmaking technology and Craig using traditional technology.
“The materials [McManus] used make his work so compelling,” Helm Krapf said. “With the prints he made with diamond dust and gunpowder, he’s marrying the materials with the issue of diamonds and child soldiers.”
McManus, who received an MFA from SUNY New Paltz, has taught printmaking and foundations at SUNY New Paltz on and off as an adjunct professor since 2008.
He said the opportunity to be involved in the show came at the end of a very transitional period in his life when he found himself not exhibiting as frequently as he had in the past.
“While my work is constantly being featured in various shows around the world, I haven’t had an opportunity for a solo space where I can exhibit multiple works since 2008 so needless to say, I am very happy that I was considered for this exhibition,” McManus said.
“Mad Men” will be featured at the PCNJ from Saturday, March 15 through Saturday, April 19.