Cover Story - Ann-Marie Manker paints bright fantasies of dark times

The busy artist is showing a new body of work for Whitespace Gallery called <i>Softcore War</i>, opening Sept. 10.

Ann-Marie Manker is among the busiest artists in Atlanta. Aside from teaching at SCAD and directing the new Kibbee Gallery, her drawings and paintings showed at the Roq la Rue Gallery in Seattle earlier this summer, and are currently on view at the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C. And all this while she works on a new body of work for Whitespace Gallery called Softcore War, opening Sept. 10. Being busy isn’t a problem for Manker, though. “Busy lately?” she laughs. “I’ve been busier.”

Manker’s problem, she says, is her obsession with matching colors. The exterior paint of her Cabbagetown house has been matched to the hue of her favorite Avon travel bag. Inside, repainted furniture matches the shades on the walls. “I have the urge to match my shoes to my shirt, everything,” she says. “You know, it’s not cool to be matching like that all the time.”

If the obsession wreaks havoc in her personal life, though, it does the opposite for her paintings. In Softcore War, Manker uses a palette of pale blues and pinks, black and beige to create consistency throughout her panels. The fantastical landscapes are populated with wrecked cars covered in a substance that could be snow or cake frosting, ominous caves in cheerful colors, and roadblocks of swans. A young woman poses throughout, holding an Uzi with a birthday candle barrel or covering her face with a veil of frilly underwear.

Manker began working on these paintings after reading about the role of female suicide bombers in Afghanistan. “I’ve never been to Afghanistan,” she says. “They’re fantasies.”

Manker compiles a file of images before she starts working on a painting — a photo she’s taken of a hired model, maybe a still from an animated movie, a clipping from the newspaper, and so on. “I’m more connected with these things that have happened in my life being an artist in the West, but I’m addressing this subject that’s affecting all of us.”

The result is visually clear but conceptually complex, simultaneously suggesting Western notions of female adolescence, the trope of the femme fatale, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. “Unfortunately, I’m a very sensitive person. I can’t even watch TV or the news; it will make me too emotional. I have to self-protect,” Manker says. “It’s bringing it up, but bringing it up in an Ann-Marie-safe way. It’s not my goal to be direct.”

Few artists are working from as many sides of Atlanta’s art world right now: bringing fresh curatorial focus to a burgeoning gallery, showing work that’s demanding attention in and out of town, and instructing the next generation of artists. Manker takes her accomplishments in stride, saying her many roles usually just blend into one another, all part of the same general project, until it comes time to produce a body of paintings like Softcore War. “I need the summers for that,” she says.