Art Student Finds Resolution in a Cityscape Painting
WAYNE—Ashley Manno, 22, is a New Jersey native studying studio art at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn. For the past four years, Manno’s passion and love for painting accompanied by her talent, has blossomed into a career path, a hobby, and an emotional outlet for coping with some of life’s most difficult tragedies.
Growing up, art was a staple piece in Manno’s life, but she says she never considered pursuing it as a career.
“I’ve always loved art. I’ve been keeping diaries and sketchbooks for as long as I can remember. When I was little, I’d draw pictures of anything—my family, a fish, the neighbor’s dog—anything,” Manno said. “It was something I’ve always found comfort in, but I really didn’t start to consider myself an artist until I was maybe 19 or 20.”
Throughout high school she felt herself being pulled in multiple directions by interests such as history and environmental science. When her senior year came around, Manno found herself needing to fulfill an open elective spot on her class schedule.
“I had taken every history, government, and environmental class possible by that point, so I was pretty conflicted on what to take next,” Manno said. “I knew I’d always loved art, but I hadn’t taken a class since middle school.”
The elective opening was eventually filled with a drawing and painting class. She says that soon after committing to it she was “hooked.”
Four years later, she has discovered a passion for painting. Her latest work focuses on architectural subject matter.
Manno says she’s inspired by things that have structure to them, that give her a kind of blueprint to work with. Her most recent work (untitled, at the moment) is a 36”x48” piece from the perspective from atop the Empire State Building. It is based on a photograph she took while in New York City on August 6th, 2014.
Manno’s eyes brighten. “I was really excited about the set of pictures I took that day. My Grandpa was born and raised in New York City, so I definitely wanted to show them to him,” she said.
Her grandfather was Frank Miles. Manno says, Miles’ life in the city was more vibrant than her collection of paints. She said he told her stories about befriending the Rockettes, serving in World War II, and working at an Abercrombie & Fitch department store for a decorated list of clients such as John Wayne, Lady Bird Johnson, and Lucille Ball. “Frankie”—as Manno calls him—lived a life “most people only see in movies.”
“He was one of my best friends,” Manno said as her eyes turned glassy. “I think we just had very similar personalities. Even still, I catch myself in similar mannerisms from time to time. I just loved spending time with him. He was the coolest person I’ll probably ever know.”
Her grandfather passed away on August 12, 2014.
“It’s almost ironic. He was 94, but in relatively good health for his age and sharp as a tack. It came as a shock when it happened. Somebody like that, you just feel like they’ll live forever,” Manno said. “It was a really weird time for me. Even a year and some change later, there are still days where it doesn’t feel real.”
Manno returned to Nashville for the fall semester of her junior year of college days after her grandfather’s passing, where she was expected to resume her studies. According to Manno, she had strong feelings of indifference, felt uninspired, and found herself face-to-face with a blank canvas.
“I was in a period of mourning and I just needed something to distract myself. I didn’t know what to paint, but I knew I needed something that could occupy my time in a healthy way.”
One day in September, Manno purchased two smaller canvases with the intent to nail them together because the 36”x48” canvas size she desired wouldn’t fit into her 2012 Ford Fiesta. The next thing she knew she was sketching the cityscape in the photograph she had taken from the Empire State Building earlier in August.
“If I’m being honest with you, I didn’t even expect to finish the drawing. I assumed I’d get discouraged or frustrated by the time it came to actually paint it,” Manno said. “But the more involved I got with this piece, the opposite happened. I started getting really excited about something again. It was the best feeling and I didn’t want it to stop.”
Manno said the image of the New York City skyline contains a huge amount of detail. Painting street by street, and building by building, she slowly chipped away at the inspired cityscape.
Three months later, Manno began filling in the final buildings with paint, nearing the end to an emotional journey.
“That painting was something where I could get lost in every technical detail and remove myself from anything else that was going on. For those few months, practically all of my energy was generated in that piece,” Manno said.
“Painting that image ended up being the best therapy for me. I let out everything I needed to let out with my brush,” Manno said. “It helped me grow past this really tough time in my life, and simultaneously, it really helped me grow as an artist in ways I didn’t even realize were happening.”
Since the completion of the piece, Manno’s art has taken a new direction towards cityscape painting, specifically of New York City. She already has a collection of possible future paintings in a photo album on her iPhone.
“If you find something that inspires you, stick with it. When you find something that makes you feel like you’re supposed to be doing it, I think you’re on the right track,” she said.
Manno’s cityscape painting was accepted into the Belmont University Student Art Show, where it was juried and awarded second place in paintings. She describes the decision to enter her painting into the show as a moment of vulnerability.
“It’s very exciting, as an artist, to see what other people will take away from it. I know what the piece means to me, but I’m excited to see how others will interpret it. That’s the next chapter. In some ways, I feel like my Grandpa and I are somehow entering that chapter together.”
An Artist Finds Inspiration in New York City Architecture
During the past year, Ashley Manno has been developing her painting skills and finding what inspires her best artwork. Manno says that she is inspired by architecture, specifically images taken in New York City, which has been a common theme in her recent pieces.
Manno, who's family home is only twenty-five minutes outside of Manhattan in Wayne NJ, visits the city often in order to take photographs for future paintings. These photographs show Manno's artistic process including her trips to New York City where she has been finding her most recent inspiration.