Ann-Marie Manker"s "El Gallo" explores bromance and Tex-Mex

Artist talks about new show at Whitespace Gallery, and her personal boogeyman

It's been two years since we've seen Ann-Marie Manker's often trippy work brighten up the walls of the Whitespace gallery. As a way to prepare and research her current show, El Gallo, Manker returned to Tucson, Ariz. to confront her demons and examine her personal history. There, she found herself attracted to the rainbow colors, specifically the pinks and turquoises, in the Mexican blankets available in the area. Tex-Mex motifs influenced the way she addressed each El Gallo, including the title piece, which features an amalgam of a cowboy, a rooster, the desert, and sort of boogeyman from her past.

Manker spoke to CL about the exhibition, revisiting her past, and the psychology of color.

You traveled to Arizona to research the concept for this show. Why Arizona and what did you ended up finding there?

I lived in Tucson from 1988 to 1990, when I was 18 to 20 years old. I went to the University of Arizona my freshman and sophomore year. During my first semester in college I had a traumatic experience, so I decided for this show to revisit that old wound. I feel like I struck oil by diving into something so personal. My past work indirectly referenced my personal history, but now I have tapped into a resource that is proving to be generous with its offerings of symbols, metaphors, and narrative.

Spending time in Tucson was inspiring. The visit didn't trigger any negative emotions. Instead it was a big, vast, beautiful landscape filled with giant saguaro, chollas, and prickly pears. It was so peaceful, with the exception of almost being attacked by a swarm of killer bees. My husband and I filmed the landscape, caves, old western movie sets, and more for the video piece that we created. I also sketched and did some site-specific installations dealing with textiles in the Ajo valley.

Tex-Mex culture seems to be heavily represented in the artwork. What attracted you to it?

When I think of my cast of characters, they are desert ranch hands and cowboys. The first piece I created, the self-titled "El Gallo," is an amalgam of a cowboy, animal (rooster), and desert landscape. He was my first attempt at drawing my own personal boogey man and became the archetype for all of the other surreal rooster men. And I couldn't help but study a variety of Mexican blankets with their colorific patterns. The inks that I mixed for my screen prints were made by looking at my pink Mexican blanket that I brought back with me to the print studio. The series of five text-based prints looks like a Mexican blanket laid out. As for signifying the phallus in some of the pieces, the cactus and red chili peppers were the perfect objects to use as I commonly associate those items with the desert Southwest.

What does "El Gallo" represent? I keep thinking of him as a mythical creature.

"El Gallo" is the monster from my past in surreal form and the more realistic versions represent men engaged in bromance putting their brothers before women. When I was drawing "El Gallo," I was sharing my progress with my brother Jamie, who informed me about a "Galipote," which is a mythical shape-shifting monster in Latin American tales. I thought, "Cool, maybe I've tapped into something here with my drawings."

For the large surreal drawings, I photographed my coworker, Michael O'Connell, who is the lead figure model at SCAD. He creates really great gestures with his poses. I always work from my own photographs before I begin a drawing. I used watercolors and ink washes as a base in the works and then layered colored pencil on top. I played with the psychology of color in an attempt to emasculate my figures, but I also really love the aesthetics of pastel and rainbow colors. I even used one of my own rooster's tail feathers to match the paint I used for the gallery walls.

Speaking of hatchets, "The Arc of Triumph" is such a unique, vibrant piece.

The hatchet is the perfect symbol/weapon for slaying "El Gallo," and to me a rainbow can be a source of power that is either fueled by darkness or light. I decided to create a rainbow of hatchets as a symbol of victory over "El Gallo."

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