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J. Steven Manolis: Rocket Man

By Bruce Helander

Having followed the developments of the art world over the past forty years, coupled with writing extensively about the acceleration of artists’ careers, particularly during my tenure as editor-in-chief of The Art Economist, it’s only natural for me to distinguish certain common denominators that seem to hold true to a proven formula for achievement. Taking a close look at the developmental aspects of some of the very best American artists that certainly are identifiable winners in history, it is interesting to observe that some of the most notable success stories were combined with a dazzling talent and a burning ambition to prevail. For example, Post War abstraction became so associated with theatrical machismo-like the hard-living, hard-drinking men Jackson Pollock and Franz Kline-that if you did not fit the mold at the time, you couldn’t join the club, which unfortunately also disavowed talented female artists like Lee Krasner, Joan Mitchell, Elaine de Kooning and Grace Hartigan, who eventually were recognized as among the most important American Abstract Expressionist painters of their time.

J. Steven Manolis while working at his studio in Lemon City, Miami.

J. Steven Manolis while working at his studio in Lemon City, Miami.

Sixty years later, the creative playing field is considered by many to be finally level in terms of sheer talent and genuine opportunity. It’s only right that the art world is acknowledging independent artists with substantial innate ability and who also avoid jumping on a fashionable political bandwagon to get attention. Those artists who are moving forward quickly because of their sheer talent and determination are good bets to keep an eye on, as they are the ones that seem to generate the most excitement and eventually the most return on an adventuresome art collector’s initial investment.

J. Steven Manolis, Jelly Fish 2010.02, diptych, ink and watercolor on paper, 24” x 36.”

J. Steven Manolis, Jelly Fish 2010.02, diptych, ink and watercolor on paper, 24” x 36.”

Part of my responsibilities as a critic is to keep my eyes open for an artist who has, in Tom Wolfe’s terms, “The Right Stuff,” which referred to the significant skills of America’s jet set astronauts, who possessed the intelligence, technical creativity and powerful desire to be one of the few who are destined to blast into space. Wolfe also penned the controversial book, The Painted Word, which satirized the art world by presenting an incriminating perspective on overrated artists and trends that continue to be a constant concern for collectors and financial advisors.

J. Steven Manolis, Molecules 2002.041 (diptych), watercolor and oil on paper, 14" x 20" each.

J. Steven Manolis, Molecules 2002.041 (diptych), watercolor and oil on paper, 14" x 20" each.

When I first discovered the abstract expressionist work of Miami-based painter J. Steven Manolis several years ago, I immediately saw in his art a special gift that seemed to enhance all his other attributes for attaining serious recognition and monetary success. It seems that everything positive is happening to Manolis, as his fast-paced profession skyrockets with accolades and prestigious exhibitions, gaining the thrust, inertia and power that correlates to a rocket ship taking off-an artistic blast-off really-that has much in common with the energy connected to rapid propulsion, which literally is ground-shaking. I am utilizing the metaphorical link to a missile launching, because that’s exactly what Manolis’ high-speed career is doing. It should be noted that he has studied privately with the acclaimed colorist Wolf Kahn, and has been painting seriously for the past forty years, combining his obvious artistic expertise with that of an immensely prosperous and creative career on Wall Street. At some point, he came to the conclusion that he wanted to concentrate on his first love-painting-and devote his full efforts to developing courageous and engaging canvases that he would refine to perfection, and that’s exactly what he has done. Out of a singularly dedicated starting gate it wasn’t long until the art world took notice, and he was definitely off to the races as a sure bet. There are precious few artists who have jumped into stardom overnight, and one was Frank Stella, who, after graduating from Princeton in 1958, immediately moved to New York with ambition and panache and two years later had earned an invitation for a show at the Whitney Museum of American Art, while the press and the art world continued to provide him with honors and other exhibition opportunities.

J. Steven Manolis, Jellyfish, 2014.01, gouache and acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”, framed 42.5” x 32.5 ‘

J. Steven Manolis, Jellyfish, 2014.01, gouache and acrylic on canvas, 40” x 30”, framed 42.5” x 32.5 ‘

When Manolis inaugurated his painting activities full time, his canvases began to blossom into remarkable and often large-scale abstract expressionist applications of paint, which somehow bore out a familiar idiosyncratic signature that had matured after many years of exploring and refining his working methods. Next came an uncommon offer from the Coral Springs Museum of Art for a major survey exhibition, opening this December, and shows in 2017 at the Center For Creative Education in West Palm Beach (March) and the Cornell Museum of Art in Delray Beach (spring). Also, it recently was announced that Books & Books, the respected Miami-based company known for its integrity and support of artists, is giving him their annual Art Basel Artist of the Year award, along with an exhibition in their galleries. They also will offer Manolis’ forthcoming book of his abstract watercolor studies of Key West, which will be followed up with a second book inspired by visits to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he will be exhibiting his work next summer. Future books planned for this series take their inspiration from other art colonies’ visual environments, including Provincetown, Aspen and Malibu. When you consider that Manolis has to produce the works to fill his busy exhibition schedule, one starts to wonder when the man sleeps (hardly ever), and how he manages to complete such startlingly handsome paintings (he’s driven to excellence and naturally talented). To accomplish all of this creative activity, Manolis has been a trendsetting pioneer in the new Miami artists’ neighborhood called Lemon City, where he works around the clock in a magnificent 5,000 sq. ft. white workspace set in a converted warehouse that is likely Miami’s finest private studio. So, at the end of the day as the sun is setting in the western sky with a wonderfully colorful reflective surface on Biscayne Bay to the east, which has served as an inspiration to generations of artists with vision and an inventive spirit, Manolis has captured the essence of post abstract expressionism with a brand new identifiable voice that has propelled him into the spotlight as his illustrious career takes off into a permanent orbit, like a comet that gains speed and fame as it lights up the atmosphere. Reminds me of Elton John’s famous song “…On such a timeless flight…And I think it’s gonna be a long, long, time, ‘Til touchdown brings me ‘round again to find, I’m not the man they think I am at home…I’m a Rocket Man…!”

J. Steven Manolis at his studio. All images are courtesy of the artist and Manolis Projects.

J. Steven Manolis at his studio. All images are courtesy of the artist and Manolis Projects.

Upcoming events with J. Steven Manolis:

Book Launch: Key West: Changing Colors / Launch Watercolor Show. J. Steven Manolis will be awarded with the Art Basel Miami Artist of the Year Award. The event will be held at Books & Books on December 2, 2016, 6:00 - 7:30 p.m.  Books & Books is located at 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables | Phone: 305 442 4408.

A major career survey of the artist’s work will open at the Coral Springs Museum of Art on Thursday, December 8, 2016. The exhibition is on view from December 3, 2016 to February 28, 2017.

Manolis Projects, which includes J. Steven Manolis and eight other artists, will be open to the public during Miami Art Week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 335 NE 59th Street. Miami, FL 33137. | Phone: 786 360 2833 | www.manolisprojects.com

Manolis’ Projects Party, will take place on Saturday, December 3, 7:30 - 10:30 p.m. For additional information contact: Shelley L. Gordon, Manolis Projects Gallery/Studio Manager, at ShelleyLGordon@gmail.com

Bruce Helander is an artist who writes on art, with an emphasis on South Florida. He is a former White House Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and is a member of the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. His work is represented in more than fifty museum permanent collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and Guggenheim Museum. He is a frequent contributor to Simply the Best, as well as The Huffington Post and ForbesLife.