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Darren McManus

Born in 1976 to an Irish father and Italian mother, Darren McManus spent the first 18 years of his life in a small southern New Hampshire town. A scholarship B.F.A. graduate from the Hartford Art School in Connecticut, his junior campaign was spent overseas studying at Scotland's Glasgow School of Art. McManus later earned his M.F.A. from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. A Galaga and Centipede whiz, he's also extremely skilled at jigsaw puzzles and recently ran his first marathon. Aside from the interests contained within his paintings, other fascinations include cacti, baseball statistics, fresh water fishing and
fruit salad.

MT> Obviously, you prefer to paint using acrylic on wood. Are there other mediums that you have used or would like to impliment into your artwork? Have you considered sculpture or another art process to express your love for gaming?
DM> To answer the first part of the question - yes, I have used other media in the past. In fact, most of my work prior to attending graduate school was executed in mixed media. During this time, I did not have the luxury of having access to an enormous studio space and this influenced both the scale of my work and my materials. In addition, much of the work I created during that time was predicated on my decision to begin a career as a freelance illustrator. As a result, I worked primarily on cold pressed illustration board combining various wet and dry mediums - gouache, ink, water color, collage, technical pens and colored pencils. What's interesting is that I have recently been utilizing these mediums again as a way to quickly generate new ideas for future compositions and/or to possibly function as a supplementary body of work that both challenges and informs my larger paintings. As for implementing new mediums, I would have to answer "yes" to this as well. I am constantly investigating different materials and methods of application within my studio, but I will include these discoveries into a piece only when I feel confident that the work will benefit from the decision.

MT> Have you considered sculpture or another art process to express your love for gaming?
DM> Yes. In fact, I was working in a type of relief/assemblage technique when the idea of incorporating "gaming" concepts first entered my mind. However, I only finished a couple of pieces in this vein before switching to the airbrush and strictly 2-D creations. Painting is still such an extremely new and exciting realm for me that I think it's a safe assessment to state that I have my hands full - creating a
3-dimensional illusion on a 2-dimensional surface is compelling enough for me at the moment.

MT> Many of your pieces are either 4 ft or 8ft in diameter and are created on a full or half of a hemisphere. Why do you prefer this size and layout format?
DM> Although the circle and hemisphere structure is a preference, the size of the works did not initially begin as such. I did not fabricate the first installment of wood structures, rather I acquired them via a stroke of good fortune. However, I think it's a fair assumption to state that the diameter of the large lunettes was dictated by the 4 x 8 foot standard for most sheets of lumber - making them the maximum size obtainable from one single sheet. Thus, it follows that two of the 4-foot circles can be made from another single sheet. At any rate, the decision to start working on circles and hemispheres crystallized after I finished my first piece using the airbrush. It was a rectangular painting titled, "Journey to the Heat Death." In many ways, the process of creating this piece symbolized the "death" of several components of my working methodology up to that time, but it also facilitated the "birth" of numerous amendments. I have long been fascinated with the various symbolic interpretations of the circle (especially the inherent cyclical nature of which I just touched upon), so the decision to work on circles and hemispheres was largely fueled by a desire to better acquaint myself with these forms. I started working on the half circles first. As I was working on them, I began to think specifically about the universal acceptance, understanding and use of geometric shapes and symbols across cultures and throughout history. I find it fascinating that the circle seems to be the ultimate paradox. It has been assigned the designation to represent an abundance of opposing forces and/or concepts stemming from very basic in nature to those of an extreme complexity. So I decided that the hemispheres would be a decent way to physically represent this dichotomy while possibly lending some influence to the work itself. I had two of the structures hanging adjacent each other on my studio wall - one with its' diameter functioning as the baseline and the other its 180 degree equivalent - arc side facing down. The first seemed "normal" or "familiar" to me while the latter appeared "upside down." This evoked a certain degree of discomfort (both visually and intellectually) and left me pondering notions of incompleteness and disharmony. For me, this only solidified the archetypal nature of the circle as a symbol of unity, wholeness and/or the cycles that contribute to such a state. In showing the circle bisected as a lunette, the idea of the complete circle becomes a concept almost impossible not to imagine - simply by viewing part of the whole. In relation to basic shapes and symbols, this inherent duality seems only to exist "within" the circle - as when a square is bisected and the two resulting rectangles are viewed in juxtaposition, one does not innately ask, "Where is the other half?"

MT> What era do you think that your paintings reflect? Primarily classic gaming concepts, more modern day or somthing in-between?
DM> I think that they portray a hybrid of different eras of the gaming realm, but this has been a gradual process based on conscious decisions. Before I started exclusively using the airbrush, I was making these strange relief / assemblage paintings in graduate school that were harboring constructive-criticism in directions that I had not intended. This was evidence enough that I needed to further unify my entire creative process in order to assure that these inaccuracies were not so commonplace when investigating the work. My interest in the visual language of the gaming realm actually stems from the layout schematics of board games that I can recall from my childhood - games like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders, and Parcheesi. I chose to use the concept of the flat, 2-dimensional game board as a compositional device that would help dictate how the elements within these paintings would (co)exist. However, at this time, I wasn't directly culling specific imagery or schematics from particular games and thus, the connection was too ambiguous and a large portion of my intended message went unnoticed. Then, late one night / early one morning while working in my studio on the first large lunette piece "The Seeker's Search Begins," I had sort of a Eureka! moment. As I just mentioned, gaming imagery and concepts were already part of my visual repertoire, but I had been struggling with how to incorporate my interests that were of a more obscure nature. That particular evening, it was my life-long fascination with Ufology. My dilemma was with how to represent this topic (or aspects of) in such a way that would be accessible to my potential viewership. All of a sudden it popped into my head - Space Invaders. Besides the obvious correlation with their very name, the idea of using these characters as surrogates for all things extraterrestrial seemed like the perfect "win / win" solution to my dilemma. At face value, they are globally recognized as classic gaming icons while their very structure simultaneously pays homage to their own lineage (or DNA if you will) - the pixel - also an increasingly influential element in contemporary painting. On the other hand (and perhaps less obvious), is the argument that Space Invaders have permeated pop culture on a global scale so thoroughly because they do represent the unknown, the unexplored and the possibility of "What if?" This inherent double meaning is the sort of paradox that fuels most of the imagery or scenarios within my paintings - some are obvious and others are shrouded in mystery. So at that point, my mind was off and running on this perfect tangent…

About 3 weeks later, upon what I thought was the completion of the piece, I stood looking at it and realized that although there were remnants or hints of humanity, there was no direct attempt at portraying the human form (and I felt there needed to be.) That's when another light bulb went off further connecting my work (and imagery) with the history of video games…

In 1974, scientists working for SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) in Arecibo, Puerto Rico blasted a transmission into deep space with the hopes of it eventually being intercepted and deciphered by extraterrestrials. The portion of this transmission designed to represent human life mirrors that of the protagonist in numerous classic video games including Atari's "Beserker" and "Tron." That being said, I appropriated this pixel representation into that painting and despite its small scale, it managed to completely shift the dynamic of the piece. Appearing to be on the verge of critical mass, everything within this apocalyptic nightmare now seemed to possess a certain causality with this human form and its precarious position within the environment. Subsequently, this "pixel person" has found a leading role in my cosmic narrative. There exist other, less obvious facets of the gaming world in my work as well. For example, in using the sequencing of exact base units (hemisphere and circle structures), I have directly mirrored the repetitive, segmented, serial nature of the video game narrative. The basic idea is that each painting offers a new tangent in my cosmological puzzle. They act as detours and / or warp zones that do not necessarily follow a linear progression, but in fact, encourage a reinvestment of thought and experience. I would like people to begin creating his or her own relationship with this "pixel person" much akin to the hyperpersonal connection one has with a character when playing a video game. In addition, I have begun to investigate issues of gestalt in the form multiple vantagepoints and perspective impossibilities, both predominate characteristics of the gaming realm. Hopefully this answer has explained what I meant by stating that my work incorporates a hybridization of gaming concepts from numerous eras.

MT> Do you ever supply a background story to set an image in a certain perspective, or do you mostly let the viewer's imagination immerse themselves into your artwork?
DM> In the form of an actual text document - no. As a painter, I understand that I will not be present the majority of the time when another person views my art. The lone option (if desired) is to supplement the work with a brief artist statement. I like to think of this document as a way to simply get the viewer intrigued about my work. It's not my idea to explain every nuance of my paintings via the artist statement, but rather to entice the viewer into a more thorough investigation of my intentions and objectives. The references and topics that fuel my work are as diverse as they are eclectic and this seems to present quite a fertile landscape for the viewer's imagination to roam and begin his or her own set of interpretations. There is definitely an underlying theme or story (if you will) throughout the work that I have created over the past several years, but it's not a preordained narrative, rather more like what I mentioned in the previous answer - a mutating cosmology.

MT> Have you had any gallery exhibitions?
DM> Yes. However, since completing my M.F.A. I have been focusing on a new body of work (based on all the ideas previously mentioned) and hopefully they will find their way into a gallery or two in the very near future.

MT> Your videogame themed pieces have found their way into DaimlerChrysler's corporate headquarters, as well as individuals collectors from as south as Florida and as north as New York. Even Sammy Studios (current owners of Sega) have appreciated your work. Is there anyplace that you would really like to see your artwork to be displayed - the Louvre perhaps?
DM> At this stage in the game (pun intended), my M.O. is to keep pushing my own limitations while creating a body of work with the hopes that it will lead to exhibitions and possible gallery representation. In all honesty (and partly because I have a nonconformist streak), I would really get excited about my work being included within the confines of any holy edifice - be it a church, cathedral, mosque, etc. That, or any other venue where it would receive widespread viewership.

MT> Are you able to calculate your physical costs for a project? This includes materials for creation and manual hours of labor to create any given piece of artwork?
DM> In a guesstimate sort of way, yes. However, I'd probably grow glum if I were to log an accurate running tally of the money I spend on supplies and project related munitions, so this is something on which I try not to dwell. However, for the sake of curiosity (and this interview) let me attempt a figure. I am currently working on six four-foot circle pieces which manifest from the following: wood, glue, sand paper, primer, x-acto blades (why are these so expensive?), paint and new air filters for my respirator. In addition, there are components of the airbrush that may or may not need to be replaced throughout a series of paintings such as needles, springs, and tips. I would round off my total for supplies somewhere between $650 and $750 for these six pieces. Finally, I've had to spend about $500 over the past several years for clamps, power tools and various accessories. In terms of man-hours, my paintings are on the laborious side. Being that I can not afford to have the structures made by somebody else; I invest close to 40 hours per structure simply on construction and prepping the surface. An eight-foot hemisphere painting takes between 300 and 350 hours while the smaller four-foot circles need roughly 150 to 200 hours. However, each piece results in new short cuts and techniques that expedite my working process. Overall, I enjoy becoming immersed within the task of finishing a piece, as the process becomes quite meditative and revealing.

MT> So, what is your next project?
DM> As previously mentioned throughout the interview - right now, I'm heavily invested in the idea of creating this elaborate, complex cosmology with the idea that each new painting builds upon it's predecessor and/or represents a viable tangent from what existed before. So, to answer your question, it's an on-going project that started several years ago and I don't foresee any finish line ahead. Which is a very good thing in my opinion because I'm completely interested in the concept and it provides for what seems to be an infinite amount of possibilities. Aside from my paintings, I have been trying to put down more of my ideas on paper in the form of small, "less finished" offerings. This combats becoming overly consumed with simply the larger paintings. These works on paper are starting to serve as building blocks or sounding boards for new techniques and concepts for the larger paintings so in that sense, they are already paying dividends within the studio.

MT> What ideas for themes do you have running around in your head that you haven't had the time to make a reality in paint just yet?
DP> Geeze. Where do I start with this one? My process is very time consuming and thus conducive to meditative spells that leave me free to think of new concepts and imagery to use in future pieces while I work. At the moment, I find myself way behind the list of "things to do" that my mind has established for my hands to enact. A couple years ago, I realized that many of my ideas would slip through the cracks and never be realized because I never wrote anything down or documented my findings. The practice of maintaining a sketchbook never really complimented my preparatory work and I think this is because for me, my prep work is much closer to a "book work" type of research than say, the process of making sketches and/or personal notations. Therefore, it didn't really seem logical to "recreate" or copy what I was discovering in the books and magazines that I was searching, so I started making photocopies and/or scanning pages to output myself. This is a constant process for me and like my paintings, there is a sort of maniacal order to this endeavor as well. I have scores of 3-ring binders that are packed with all the copies, scans and texts that I have been gathering and the collection serves as a physical representation of the ideas in my head. Each binder is classified by the relationships that I find intriguing about the elements/concepts found within. For instance, the Space Invader characters are categorized within my "Ufology" binder sandwiched between the documentation of the SETI transmissions that I previously mentioned and the pages of "beamships" as documented by Billy Meir in his (in)famous lifelong communications with extraterrestrials. Despite having very similar formal characteristics, the fact that the imagery pertaining to these three topics runs the gamut from fiction to non-fiction, to me, is utterly fascinating. It is fact that SETI blasted transmissions into deep space. On the contrary, the legitimacy of Billy Meir's extraterrestrial aircraft photos is still a question without an answer - hardly passing for fact. While the imagery of the Space Invaders function as the hybrid - they are a fictitious reality. Which, in essence, is really what I create. I think I might have answered that question in a very roundabout manner, so let me clarify. Although each piece is its own entity, I envision them all belonging to the same "project" bound by my personal interests and idiosyncrasies.

I hope that I answered all of your questions and perhaps provided a decent backdrop for what I create and how the process unfolds. If you are reading this and would like to ask me any additional questions, please feel free to drop me an e-mail and I will do my best to reply in a timely fashion. On a side note - I recently created a design for a Chicago based T-shirt company. All their shirts are hand made (screen-printed) and my design should be ready for purchase in the very near future. Here is their website address:
In the meantime, please be on the lookout for my website and take care. Thanks.   (UPDATE: All the T-Shirts are SOLD OUT)

MT> Thank you, Darren, and good luck with your future endeavors combining Art & Games, and all your other underlying themes.
The name Darren McMannis may not yet be a household name, but your a d@mn good painter!

We hope that you enjoyed this interview. Usually Good Deal Games' interviews seem
to focus on designers and programmers of the past, or those involved within some
realm of direct videogame involvement. We branched out with this interview, so
be sure to let us know what you think of this new and refreshing angle!

Have questions or want to contract a painting for your very own:E-mail Darren
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