Had Keith Mantell not named his lyrical equine fantasy cover art “Snack Time,” he could have as easily called it “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” anticipating the season with wit and whimsy. And kudos to the Dan’s Papers production team for picking up the bottom red foliage and carrying the color to the paper’s banner logo, setting it against Mantell’s dark green, thus augmenting the painting’s dramatic design of light and shade.
In the interests of authenticity, however, a viewer should block out the logo to see how Mantell has organized his 12” x 12” oil on panel composition, starting with the theatrical light from an unknown source offstage. The carefully painted horse and flowers reflect Mantell’s love of European and American 19th century Realism and Impressionism (Ah! that sculpted horse!), but also his appreciation of what he refers to as “an abstract expressionist idea” about color—that it “may not be exactly true to life, and the elements may flow together, but the goal is to make a fresh and spontaneous painting.”
You sold “Snack Time” two years ago, and you mentioned that you dreamt of it recently and missed it. Does such a urge visit you often?
No, but this painting had a special, almost magical origin. Some years ago I was traveling around a poor, mountainous region in Mexico, and I saw this white horse with his tongue out, nibbling away on a floral bush. I always have my camera, so I started taking shots. Some time later, back home [on Long Island], I took a look at the images. It was winter, and the “horsey picture” just got to me, especially the horse’s “drunken eye.” And everything just came together. I did it on panel for a smooth effect though I also work on linen and canvas.
You work in a number of genres—landscapes, seascapes, still lifes, the human figure, portraits. Your bio shows that you took classes at The New York Academy School of Fine Art. What came first and when?
I always loved to draw, especially the female nude, but for years I did only sketches, and then I went to work at Sotheby’s and for 10 years managed a gallery in Southampton [Chrysalis]. In 2007, though, when I turned 50, I decided the time was right to go back to the creative side. I even found some old Grumbacher tubes from 30 years ago (they sure made paint better then). It’s hard to be an artist now, but I felt that if I was born to be one, I had to do it. I love to paint but I still go to the Southampton Cultural Center to do live-model figure drawing.
Your website lists “landscapes, other scapes and no-scapes,” and your portrait shows you with a Dali mustache. Do you like to infuse humor into your art or at least into the promotion of your art?
Hmmm… a sense of humor allows one to enjoy and see things a politician never would…. Without humor, there would be no flourishes in life. It’s hereditary, it’s not my fault. Well, my brother insisted on the moustache.
You’re comfortable doing studio work and en plein air. In fact, you’re a member of Plein Air Peconic and exhibit with the group. Some of your landscapes—especially paintings of hills and valleys and of cottages and farm buildings—show an affinity for impressionist and post-impressionist traditions, particularly in your geometric blocking of shapes and contour definitions around natural forms which recall Cezanne.
I love doing both studio and en plein air, but I also like using my camera to capture images and do a bit of Photoshop manipulation before I begin in the studio.
Mantell’s work can be seen on keithmantell.com. Mantell is a regular exhibitor at the Fitzgerald Gallery in Westhampton and at the South Street Gallery in Greenport. In June he will have several pieces in a group show at the Water Mill Museum.