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Musician's artistic quest to conjure the true bluesman


The bluesman and his journey is a common theme in the paintings of musician and artist Brenton Manser, whose passions will converge at this week’s Deep South Festival.

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The celebration of blues, roots and folk music at the Governor Hindmarsh incorporates an exhibition titled The Artist Behind the Musician, which opens on Thursday and will be followed by three days of performances by Australian artists including Ray Beadle, The Backsliders, The Mojo Webb Band and Pugsley Buzzard.

Here, Manser, who will both exhibit his artwork at Deep South and perform at Sunday’s Up Close & Personal session, offers an insight into both his music and his art.

What came first – music or art?

Music came first for me, and having devoted more time to music it is probably my priority. That said, I get just as much enjoyment and satisfaction from painting something I’m pleased with as I do from writing a song.

How long have you been painting?

I started a couple of years ago and it was not a gradual process; it was actually a bit of an onslaught. It started on a whim but quickly developed into an obsession.

It started off quantity over quality and not much has changed… it just means a few paintings fall by the wayside before the ones I’m happy with come along.

Like songwriting, I think it’s something I need to do often, not only as an outlet but as my job, if I want to call myself an artist without feeling like a con-man.

Red Desert Blues, by Brenton Manser.

Red Desert Blues, by Brenton Manser.

What inspires your artwork?

I’m sure I’m supposed to say life and experience but in truth, just like in my songwriting, I am inspired by other artists. Not because of their abilities but their creative essence that shines through their art.

In a similar fashion to many of the post-modernist artists that I like, I mix and match styles and put it through my own filter and see what comes out – hopefully, something that is uniquely and unavoidably me.

Does that differ from what inspires your music – and if so, how?

My approach is very similar to songwriting, in that I can sit down with an idea and let it unravel as I go. If it’s progressing well, I’ll try to get the bulk of it completed in the first sitting. Which can mean little sleep at times.

That said, I think one of the important things for artists/songwriters is the ability to self-edit… and also to know when the idea has peaked. I think you can lose sight of the original spark and overdo it.

Are there usual themes you like to explore?

Yes, the bluesman and his journeys are a regular theme for me. You could say I’m currently sort of stuck on this theme. I’m not sure if the bluesman is me, but he is someone that intrigues me.

Like many career musicians, you have to eventually wonder where did western culture’s love of rock and roll come from? The fact is, it was spawned from the most downtrodden and oppressed people from that delta region long ago.

Can you talk about your bluesman series in more detail?

I like the idea of sticking to a theme when exhibiting pieces. That’s probably because of my approach to releasing music. Although I play some different styles within the roots genre, I would rather not confuse the listener – or in this case, the viewer.

The settings are usually inspired by the creation of colour. This can sometimes be the result of a happy mistake and lead to somewhere unexpected. At this stage, the bluesman is continually morphing and changing… maybe I’m trying to create the one true bluesman.

Bluesman in a Boat, by Brenton Manser.

Bluesman in a Boat, by Brenton Manser.

Your paintings are quite stylised – what influences that style?

I was quick to find my style. I think this was because I knew what I liked in other artists’ work. I came to these other works through my father-in-law’s vast collection of art books… many of which are on permanent loan!

Have you created the cover art for your albums? 

I painted the cover art for the last three of my solo albums; it seemed easier for me to get across the look that I wanted and meet the deadline of a looming launch. Having worked in a vinyl record shop for many years and being surrounded by fantastic cover art, I have a healthy respect for rock and roll and its heritage.

How does it feel to have both your art and music presented at Deep South? 

It is exciting for me, being able to showcase both art forms. In many ways, they have become inextricably linked, giving my songs a singular visual image. It will also be great to see what visual images the other musicians give to their music.

What artists or musicians are you looking forward to most at the event?

I’m hoping to catch as much of the four-day festival as I can, without burning myself out before my set on the last day. That said, The Backsliders are one not to miss, with their mastery of instrument and song.

Deep South Festival opens at The Gov on November 19 and continues November 22.

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