The art of self-reinvention

He’s a former skateboarder with a fascination with graffiti who takes a multidimensional approach to art. He combines scraps of new and old materials and used frames and 50-cent collectibles to create bold, subtle, abstract imageries of textural portraits.

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He’s a former skateboarder with a fascination with graffiti who takes a multidimensional approach to art. He combines scraps of new and old materials and used frames and 50-cent collectibles to create bold, subtle, abstract imageries of textural portraits.

Gabriel Manca sees beauty in the broken and possibility in the damaged. His work challenges the idea that working artists must confine themselves to one art style or medium.

“I learn about the world through the art-making process,” Manca said. “I find and process materials with expressive potential and incorporate them into narratives, adding to symbolism and cultural references.”

Manca’s latest solo exhibition, “Hyperbole is Your Friend,” is currently on display through March 2 at Portland’s Froelick Gallery. Other featured artists include commercial illustrator Kris Hargis and Native American artist Rick Bartow.

Admission to the exhibition is free of charge and students are welcome to check out the works of Portland’s premier visual artists.

Before working as an artist, Manca attended the Pacific Northwest College of Art from 1992 to 1995. He dropped out in his last year to pursue professional opportunities that came knocking at his door.

“One has a better chance of becoming a pro football player than making a living as an artist,” Manca said of the financial considerations that caused him to rethink his education. “I felt there were too many positive things happening in my life at the time, and did what I felt was right.”

He owes much of his success to his education and instructors at PNCA, however, and says he wouldn’t change a thing.

“Many of my old teachers are respected artists in the community, and show their work in galleries around town,” Manca said.

During his last year at PNCA, Manca met Charles Froelick (owner of Froelick Gallery) at Thomas Jamison Gallery, which is now closed. Over the years, the pair remained close, building both a friendship and partnership.

Froelick explains his ongoing love affair with Manca’s artwork.

“I like working with artists who are diverse and have the ability to change and experiment with different mediums,” Froelick said. “I appreciate Manca’s vulnerability [and ability] to make an emotional connection through his art. He’s not afraid to take risks.”

Froelick, who has been in the gallery industry for more than two decades, gave a small taste of how business deals are made in the art world.

“Working with an artist and representing an artist, over time, becomes a trusted partnership,” Froelick said. “I have several artists who approach me, but I have to see that potential. If I feel their work is representable, I’ll ask them to bring in about 20 of their works. From there, I edit it down to about 10.”

Manca began showing his paintings in high school, describing himself as the go-to guy for his classmates’ projects.

“I’d do anything creative that I could get my hands on, whether it was making posters for my friends, painting album covers or fixing lockers,” Manca said.

Manca looked to books, television and radio for inspiration.

“I never really strived to be like other artists,” Manca said. “Instead I was attracted to everyday people, like carpenters. They were much more interesting to me.”

Unlike many artists whose works tend to be overly familiar, Manca wanted to break away from that mold, making each painting different from the last.

“A lot of artists tend to be categorized into a genre of art, because their work is so obvious,” Manca said. “I always wanted my work to be unrecognizable, without having almost any relevance to my previous work.”

In this exhibition, the piece Lamplight, Utensils, and Vegetables is arranged by integrating abstract imagery into a narrative form.

“Those objects were already depicted in that piece, and I worked to obscure them to a point where they remained somewhat visible,” Manca said. “In the process of manipulating materials I sometimes discover new images that are not part of the original piece and seek to pull them out and develop them.”

The Froelick Gallery presents
Hyperbole is Your Friend
An art exhibition by Gabriel Manca
Feb. 5–March 2
714 NW Davis St.
Free and open to the public
More information at [email protected]

Manca currently resides in Enterprise, Ore., with his wife and young daughter, and said that he prefers open spaces to tight cities. Aside from his paintings, he also sculpts regularly, and is currently collaborating with a local photographer and glass sculptor for an independent film project.

From the outside, Manca may appear to be one of the lucky ones who broke into the art world as a teenager, but he explained that it cost him a pretty penny.

At almost 40 years old, he recently paid off his school loans and describes it as a “labor of love” kind of industry: Just because your work appears in galleries and you sell a few paintings doesn’t exactly mean you’re rolling in the dough.

A lot of it is an illusion, a kind of smoke-and-mirrors effect for the public.

“There is a lot of opportunity in the art world, but you have to stick with it,” Manca said. “Even though I’ve been doing this for years, the self-criticism never goes away.”