Gene Mann is a French artist who has been living and working in Geneva, Switzerland since 1980. She works across mixed media paintings, monotype, collage and sculpture.
Apart from auditing some art classes, Mann is largely a self-taught artist. This lack of formal training would normally result in her being labelled an art brut or outsider artist; however, while she admires such artists, she does not define herself this way. Her work diverges from the folk-based aesthetic and explicit narrative content that defines the majority of outsider art. Rather, her works are complex portrayals of internal psychological and emotional states, which is often ambiguous territory.
For Mann, her work is about the joy of human freedom, often expressed through abstracted figures and symbols reminiscent of cave paintings and ancient glyphs. Her mark making is an extension of her compulsively honest and passionate outpouring of emotion, some of which is subjective, some of which is collective.
Contemporary events can influence her work, such as the large scale ink drawing Destinées nomades 2016, which is about migration (human as well as birds). Mann admits that there are elements relating to the refugee crisis in the work, but says it is not a political comment. Instead, she asks the question: “What would happen if we all reached out to one another?”.
Promesse de printemps 2005 (Promise of Spring) was created for an international painting prize at Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan in commemoration of the Kobe earthquake. It represents the rebirth of hope and life after the devastation which left almost 6,500 people dead – the majority from the Hygo region – and 68 children orphaned. Mann’s approach to this particular subject could have been a morbid focus on the extensive trail of devestation, however, she always returns to a compassionate view of humanity and the belief that freedom delivers us hope, rebirth and togetherness. Hers is a striving for authencity of experience and expression.
Despite sticking to a largely earthy palette of blacks, whites, ochres and browns, Mann has an instinctive sense of colour. Flashes of strong colour appear as underpainting, splotches or outlines; the effect is one of surprise and delight, like the smile of a stranger or the stirring power of poetry. The sparks of connection she generates, link our selves to the network of humanity and nature that swarm across her surfaces.
Stylistically and conceptually Mann is close to abstract expressionism. In keeping with the urgency to express herself authentically, drawing is integral to her work because of its directness; her lines stand exposed, naked, to the viewer’s critical judgement. Within the Australian visual vernacular, Mann’s approach is closely aligned to that of Ian Fairweather. Both share an interest in subdued colours, the abstracted human figure and Eastern writing. Fairweather was attracted to Chinese writing, Mann to Japanese. Art critic Robert Hughes described Fairweather as a deeply spiritual artist and “one of the very few modern artists to make a convincing bridge between Eastern calligraphic traditions and Western drawing”. Mann’s Japanese gallery, Galerie Miyawaki in Kyoto, describes her use of line as calligraphic, hence her appeal to the Japanese eye. It is the masterful fusing of Western and Eastern aesthetics and linear figurative abstraction that lend their works a timeless quality capable of transcending cultural borders.
Mann’s innate modernist tendencies were partly why Tzila Krugier of the prestigious Galerie Krugier & Cie Art Contemporain in Geneva, chose her as the first new artist to join the gallery since the death in 2008 of its founder and her father, Jan Krugier. Krugier was one of Europe’s most influential dealers, representing modern masters like Picasso, Alberto Giacometti, Alexander Calder, Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Jean Dubuffet, Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and many others. Where some of her famous male predecessors self-consciously tried to return to a pure artistic state unfettered from the restraints of academic training, this state comes spontaneously for Mann.
It therefore gives us great pleasure in presenting to you these works by Gene Mann, an artist of great sensibility and original vision.