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Thursday, July 29, 2004 02:42 am

Manning adds studio space, launches anti-Kerry series

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Springfield artist Michael Manning says that most of his friends are liberals, and so he expects that his newest project will "drive them crazy." Manning, who served two tours of duty with the Marines in Vietnam, has started a series of 15 posters featuring U.S. Sen. John Kerry. The posters are, to put it mildly, less than flattering.

Manning is no fan of Kerry's. The artist's dislike of the decorated Vietnam War veteran and Democratic Party presidential nominee stretches back to 1970, when Kerry was giving speeches on behalf of Vietnam Veterans Against the War. Manning contends that the presidential candidate's "lies" were responsible for many needless deaths in that war: "I would like to see him defeated in a grand way." The first poster in Manning's series depicts Kerry as a vampire Viet Cong fighter with blood dripping from his fingers and teeth, wearing medals emblazoned with the North Vietnamese red star. Manning says he plans to have all 15 completed by September.

The 57-year-old artist, whose political passions have always been as vibrant as his art, has come a long way from his home town of North Dupo, just south of East St. Louis. By the time he arrived in Springfield in 1985 to work for the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources, he was drawing regularly. In the summer of 1991 he sold his art at the Illinois State Fair. "I showed them to George Colinand his wife in Salisbury, and they encouraged me to keep drawing," Manning recalls. "They really liked what I was doing."

He left state government in 1992 and became a full-time artist. "Every day I went to [local] libraries and thumbed through art books until I developed an idea of a style I wanted to pursue," Manning recalls. I call the style that I developed 'cartoonorealism.' I started drawing pictures the way I saw the world and not copying anyone else's stuff."

About 99 percent of Manning's art is pastel on high-quality French coverstock, but Manning also dabbles in acrylics. In addition to the posters, he produces book-cover designs, illustrations for publications, and even CD labels.

Manning's studio is located above the Prairie Archives bookstore, but the artist recently acquired space at the former location of Kerrigan's Grocery Store, 622 S. Eighth St.

The new location was a result of Manning's decision to partner with daughter Caitlin, who agreed to serve as agent and office manager. "Almost as soon as we decided to do this, she became pregnant, and we decided we didn't want her in the studio because of the dust and possible toxicity of some of the chemicals I use," Manning says. Although he has moved his books and collectibles to the Eighth Street location, he is holding on to the space above the bookstore.

There's another reason Manning is keeping that studio: his frequent appearances outside on the mall, working in pastels at his easel and chatting with passersby. A bout with pneumonia last Christmas took most of Manning's voice, and today the artist speaks in a whisper. Manning hopes that surgery later this year will restore his voice to its former mellifluous luster.

Visits to Manning's new studio are by appointment only. For information, call 789-1833.

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