The Man in the Canoe: Works by Manning Williams

The Charleston, South Carolina artist Manning Williams earned a Bachelors Degree in English from the College of Charleston and a Masters Degree in Fine Arts from the Pennsylvania Academy of Mine Arts. While at the Academy he began forging a highly personal approach to realist painting, a style he continued for decades upon his return to Charleston. Eschewing the picturesque subjects long associated with Charleston art and artists, he found his subjects on the periphery of the city and along the barrier islands, often concentrating on overlooked people and places.

The Man with the Canoe series began in the mid 1980’s with a wood carving, and later a bronze cast of the subject. The first painting to include the man in the canoe is the orange still life with a poster of Peter Paul Rubens in the Background. The man in the canoe became a device to introduce the viewer to a range of subject matter, and in fact becomes a proxy for the viewer. Conflating past and present, profound historic events and the everyday, the man in the canoe is an observer of war, human cruelty, and environmental loss and neglect. The most important paintings are largely dark and monochromatic and painted in a dramatic narrative approach that dramatizes a slice of a larger historical event or enigmatic subjects with an undertone of malice.

Manning taught at The Gibbes Museum Art School and the College of Charleston. In the last two decades of his life Williams shifted his work from realism to abstraction. Inspired by his comic book collection, television and the digital technology rapidly changing the world. He saw this work as a continuation of his earlier work and wrote, “I consider myself a narrative painter. Yet times have changed the way we see the world. TV, movies, and the internet pour out information faser than we could have imagined only a few years back. My work today is about finding new ways to narrate our times.”