Manor Grunewald – “I’m not a conceptual artist, I’m just a painter”

Manor is a true image collector or even just a collector, considering all the random objects you encounter in his studio. You arrive in the room, situated near a canal in the north of Ghent, and find floors and shelves full of images, old magazines and clippings of newspapers with amazing quotes.  When I asked him what his art was  about, he gave me the answer I wanted to hear: “I have no plans, I just collect, randomly, and then find a narrative”. Welcome to Manor Grunewald’s studio.

He hung a first painting for us composed of two canvases: “It even ‘sleeps’ you” and  “Operation for a nosebleed” which pictures a ‘history of warship’. I enjoy the calm and soothing way of painting the background of those two paintings that are simply linked by a black spot.

Manor is autodidact who trained on the streets. After four months of academy, he drops out and decides to continue without the cumbersome framework of art schools. Meanwhile since his teen years, he has painted some 1,000 walls “Graffiti is the first thing to become involved in nowadays if you are interested in painting – when you’re young that’s what you see on the streets”.

Why does Manor Grunewald paint? For the absurdity of it, emphasized by this world of photoshopping and digital photography, overwhelmed by pictures (which was the object of Ponyhof’s first curated exhibition). Why on earth would people continue to use such a slow and useless medium? I asked him then why using oil? “Because it dries so slow and you can easily rework it, unlike acrylic” says Manor while he stains his hands black from a fresh painting he hasn’t touched in two and a half weeks.

Funny thing is that I’m sure many conceptual-art advocates would be very enthused by Manor’s conceptual developments. But by talking for more than two seconds with him, you understand that he doesn’t care much about concepts. He offers experience to his viewer and refuses to impose concepts on them. People are often insecure to see what they want in art and always need “keys” to cling to.

So what is Manor’s work all about? “Just images, who cares about the meaning, it’s about narratives, like when you’re reading a book”. Manor likes to play with art history. We are all subject to the overflow of images, so what is left to do? Just collect them and play with them and try to make it interesting for the viewer. “To me it makes sense”.

The painting “Who will survive and what will be left of them?” (tagline from the Chain Saw Massacre) is dedicated to all artists. I asked why there is so often a layer of white on his paintings and he explained how when he uses texts or other very graphic elements, he uses such a white film to make it a painting.

He then takes out “Maybe you were satisfied but we weren’t”. How did he come up with it? No plans, just found this silver reflecting film and then decided to create a narrative around it. That’s what Manor means about narrative. He finds something like an image, a material, a quote and then plays with it and ends up creating a work. He doesn’t want to create stories and hand out keys to the viewer but just enable him/her to make up their own story in what they see, to confront them to watch something from a different angle.

“The works have to stand on their own” he says. As Kippenberger said, who cares how the works are hung, they can be stacked up on top of each other, if they are good they’ll stand out. And this is why Manor arranges his own pictures at his own exhibitions in his own way. For his next exhibition at Bozar he’ll use some crates to compose his space. He likes crates for they carry so much history. Stacking paintings on top of each other reminds him of photoshop and how you end up with windows on top of each other, except that painting does not exactly take the same amount of time…

Manor does not care about the perception of his viewers, in the sense that they are free to see what they want to in his work. It makes it much more interesting for him to know that each person will apply a different meaning or story behind the images he produces. His work shows it is more important to look, feel and ask yourself questions.

See more of his work on his website:


One response to “Manor Grunewald – “I’m not a conceptual artist, I’m just a painter”

  1. i would like to see the work in the actual – from photgraphs; looks very strong – aestheticaly & physically.

    my experience has been that painting undermines narrative (to put the case far more simply than i mean), is too stark & reveals too much. Manor maybe one of the few painters about who is actually finding means to negotiate narrative without resort to nebulous concept (not that there is not some very strong conceptual work).



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