|Trent Manning, Wire and String and Misc. Things|
(What Little Girls Are Made Of), 2012
Trent Manning was that kid whose mom always caught him hiding under the covers drawing pictures when he was supposed to be asleep. She became a little worried when the pictures took a darker turn, and actually made him stop drawing for awhile before relenting so he could take an art class at Winter Haven High School. He was immediately hooked on art, but it took years before he realized his work was good enough to sell and support his family.
An artist involved in Ridge Art in Winter Haven persuaded him to show some of his paintings at an outdoor show in 2004. “I wasn’t what I considered to be a really good painter. I struggled with it. But about two years later, they had a ‘found object show,’ and I made a piece to participate and it really clicked. I knew I had found my niche. Now it’s about more than I can keep up with, which is a really fortunate problem to have.”
Today, Manning, 38, spends about 10 hours a day, six days a week in his studio – a former cooler that he was assigned because he likes to weld and it’s fireproof – at Winter Haven’s Arts Ensemble. He builds sculptures out of scrap metal, old tools, wire and just about anything else people will give him.
His commitment has paid off with several commissions and prestigious awards. His sculpture, King of the Mountain, won Best of Show at Gasparilla Festival of the Arts, and he won first place in sculpture at Beaux Arts in Coral Gables and a merit award at the Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival. An exhibition of new work, titled Miscellaneous, opens Saturday (September 8) in the Murray and Ledger Galleries at Polk Museum of Art.
He sells pieces as fast as he can finish them, and so this show features all new work. He says he has been exploring “childlike” themes. “A lot of what I’m doing now is very inspired by my 3-year-old – toys, revisiting childhood games. I’m working on a tricycle pulling a train and a tug-of-war piece."
The pieces definitely have a bit of whimsy about them, but they also seem a bit dark. “There’s a nice balance of good and evil, though. It’s not all sugary clouds!” he insists. “I just sold a piece to a gallery that was kind of a Gulliver’s Travels piece. People read a lot into it – very political, very adult themes – but it was inspired by a children’s story.”