by Chris Ammon
Ashland Daily Tidings, May 19 - May 26, 2000
Herald and News, Klamath Falls, Oregon - May 16, 2000

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ASHLAND --Painting has helped Alicia Mannix learn to appreciate accidents. Not the sort of "oops"-inducing mishaps that have come with raising three children -- tipped-over milk glasses, scraped-up knees and food stained shirts, but an "oops" of a different order -- the inspired accidents of artistic creation.

Working freely with different media, Mannix's approach to painting is based largely on the happenstance meetings of canvas, cloth, brooms, brushes, sponges and other materials she uses in her artistic process.

"When you are using these objects you have much less control," she explains. "So, you are inducing accidents." This playful sort of approach defines the technique that Alicia, who lived in Klamath Falls for several years, calls Spontaneous Expressionism.

"I am usually not pleased with preconceived images," she explains. "I just start sketching things. I take paint and pastels and forms come out of it. My process is to have no concern for outcome."

Sitting in her studio, she holds up a framed example. Although the texture and color of the piece suggests the surface of a pink desert rock, when she removes the glass frame it is clearly cardboard. She rubbed glue onto the cardboard to create texture and then painted over the top.

The piece is only typical of Mannix's insofar as its creation was based on a whim. In general, forms that emerge from her paintings vary wildly and unpredictably. From one painting to the next, the viewer is run through a gamut of impressions: Domestic and maternal themes dominate a nativity series while exotic gestures toward the far-away are hinted at in others.

The pieces crowd together in her Ashland home -- less a suggestion of a small house than of a profuse collection. Viewing them all at once can be a dizzying experience; one is not sure where to look with eye-catching hues and images beckoning from all directions.

When asked if the images, despite their semi-haphazard creation, depict her personal life in some way, Mannix is quick to respond, "Totally. In fact when I really want to find out what is going on in my life, I just start painting and the image tells me where I am and if I'm going somewhere. Things just come up through colors or images."

To illustrate the concept, Alicia pulls out a piece she calls "House Arrest." In the painting, a woman stands in her house and gazes at the world that lay outside the window. "When I was depressed and feeling trapped as a single mom, this painting came up. It was just exactly what I was feeling at the time."

If Mannix finds emotional orientation in the images that precipitate from her approach, she also finds therapeutic value in the artistic process itself -- especially when it comes to making last minute changes on a piece.

Mannix explains that, at times, the changes she feels compelled to make seem like mistakes. She states mournfully, "The way it was will never come up again so you have to transform it and grieve what is lost." And this is where the life metaphor comes in.

"It's been incredible for me to experience the losses and the gains, of ruining things and then -- most often than not -- something I think I have ruined turns into something magnificent. Isn't that a statement about life?

Mannix dwells, then, in a place where the accidental event reigns supreme. Chance meetings, unexpected turns, and "bad" brush strokes form the staple of her art.

Sitting on her couch, surrounded by her "accidents," Mannix reflects on how she only started painting a couple of years ago. Her life has changed since. She is now able to view upsetting life experiences more artistically or, as she puts it, as "invitations to something more incredible."

As she speaks, her Dalmatian sits next to her seeming humorously appropriate with the random smattering of brown spots covering his body like flung paint. She smiles and pets him. "Two years ago," confesses Alicia, "I didn't perceive this process."

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AuthorAlicia Mannix