By PAUL LASTER, MAY 2016
A Brazilian artist who lives and works in Italy, Louise Manzon started out working as a product designer in New York before turning to ceramic sculpture when she moved to Milan. A self-taught artist, Ms. Manzon makes marvelous figures of goddesses and sea creatures based on Greco-Roman mythology, yet rendered purely by hand from her own imagination.
After recent one-person exhibitions in Milan and Venice, Manzon is making her American solo show debut at Gallery 61 at the New York Institute of Technology, near Lincoln Center. Presenting 34 of her sculptures of women and fish in a variety of shapes and sizes, the installation flows around the gallery’s corridor-like spaces in a pleasing, processionary way.
Her female figures with their billowing gowns are inspired by The Three Graces—mythical deities of splendor, joy and prosperity—and the legendary Nereids, sea nymphs that protected marine life and sailors, while her swirling fish forms symbolize different oceans and seas from around the world. Manzon’s modern-day interpretations embrace issues of female empowerment, as well as concerns about conserving the environment.
Celtico, which represents the Atlantic Ocean, confronts the viewer as though it’s swimming past. Its blue patinated body is spotted with rust, which makes it look like bronze rather than glazed ceramic and old rather than new. The creature’s head is realistic, but its physique is purely abstract. This fish possesses multiple fins that seem to propel it forward from the past and quickly into the future—to take it, and the viewer, beyond the present and into a dreamlike realm.
Her sculptural fish Malacca, named for the stretch of water between the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian island of Sumatra, has a wide-open mouth that’s seemingly seeking sustenance and a sexy, swerving figure, which could possibly lure its audience to become its prey, while Coralli has camouflaged itself with a red skin and ridged fins to hide within the ocean reefs and stay forever safe.
Protection is one of the roles given to Nereids, the goddesses who watched over seafarers and fishermen. Depicted in ancient art as beautiful young maidens, they also represented the various facets of the sea—from foam, sand and salty brine to rocky shores, waves and currents.
Manzon blurs the forms of her nymphs between the natural and the organic, the realistic and the abstract. They possess the head and shoulders of strong, sophisticated young women, but their bodies are thoroughly rooted in nature. Wearing coral crowns, they confidently look upward to the heavens, even as their figures remain earthbound with forms that resemble waves, reefs and seed pods.
Melite is encased in a big, blue, biological structure that seems to be comforting its subject even as it similarly appears to be giving birth to the figure—pushing her out into the world or having her miraculously erupt from it. Cymothoe, meanwhile, wears a violet gown resembling a chunk of coral reef that the artist made by pressing her thumbs into wet clay and Doto sports a decorative, turquoise dress, which ends with a pointy tail fin perfect for thrusting this seductive mermaid from the depths of the seas to dry land.
Like her magnificent fish, which have morphed from what we already know into something we could only imagine, Manzon’s women symbolize the power to transcend personal history and the baggage that sometimes comes with it so that we can begin life anew. WM
Paul Laster is a writer, editor, independent curator, artist and lecturer. He is a New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific and a contributing editor at Whitehot and artBahrain. He was the founding editor of Artkrush.com and Artspace.com and art editor of Flavorpill.com and Russell Simmons's OneWorld Magazine; started TheDailyBeast.com's art section; and worked as a photojournalist for Artnet.com and Art in America. He is a frequent contributor to Time Out New York, New York Observer, Modern Painters, ArtPulse and ArtInfo.com.view all articles from this author