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Michael Manning is Collage Don.

He uses collage techniques to talk about his life and passions. Michael makes art on canvas with magazines and printed media. He calls his movement Maximalism. It’s the opposite of minimalism. It lacks white space, has a sense of movement, and the subject is full of hidden items. It’s a commentary on mental health in the “Age of Information”.

Hi Michael! When did you begin painting and how did you get started? What did you want to become when you were a child?

Michael: I have been painting for as long as I can remember. I took to it very naturally. I think I have always felt a sense of wonder for colors. I have synesthesia which is the phenomenon of stimulation of one part of the body pairing up with other seemingly unrelated parts of the body. This phenomenon can manifest in a variety of ways such as seeing sounds or tasting memories. For me, synesthesia has always manifested in very vivid daydreams, loud music in my head that is triggered by visual stimulus and seeing sounds.  Many sounds in life start off as an orange-tinted brown (like apple sauce colored) and then they’ll flare into more vivid colors as if to get my attention. I wish I could say Beethoven has always been one color, but it’s much harder to describe than that. He definitely has a lot of dark blue hues though. I have a big imagination. Sometimes I can feel what I am painting. When I draw or paint from observation, I feel in my mind’s eye I can pick up any object in my hand and see it in 3 dimensions, no matter how far away it might be.

Ever since I was very young I always wanted to be a professional artist. The children’s book Dinotopia by James Gurney was the quintessential catalyst for this dream. That book entertained me for years and it still does. It’s the best feeling ever to just wake up, feeling excited about an idea or a dream, write it down, share it, and others could feel the same way. I can make my own world, create my own rules, and communicate in a way that words will never match. Art is and will always be the best feeling ever.


Tell us about your artwork, medium, style, subject matter etc.

Michael: As a child of adoption I know how it feels to wake up some days and think about what my life would have been like if I had been adopted by a different family. Sometimes I feel like a page plucked out of a book found in the back of the library, and glued into a different book from the front of the library. My collage art is the work I am most excited about because when you look in art history books, the information there is about collage artists is small. I see a unique opportunity as a collage artist to capture my day and age in a very accurate and relevant manner. I’ve tried many mediums of art, from photography to ceramics, to digital art, and I still experiment a lot, but I always come back to collage because I think it feels so good to rip the paper and lather glue all over the canvas. Collage is my “legacy play” and what I’d like to leave a mark on after I die.

I am Michael Manning. I am the Collage Don. I collect magazines. I’m obsessed with paper and I use collage techniques in a variety of ways to talk about my passions. I cut, copy, and paste different kinds of paper onto canvases. I tear through thousands of pieces of paper and add as many of them as I possibly can to make dope collages. In this phase of my creativity, I have a collection of collages that is titled “The Collaged On” because it’s a play of words on my alias “The Collage Don”. My thesis is that in modern life we live in a collage. In society, we constantly project our pasts directly over our futures. “Collaged” over time has become a verb that implies a layering technique of covering a wall with photographs and printed images, and in doing so we layer new exciting culture over the old. We are all “collaged on”. I’ve noticed after people look at my artwork everybody asks me “mixed media?” and I’ll just say “No, collage.” because it’s such a silly question. They want to know if I did any painting to achieve the look that they see, as if that proves I worked harder on it for some reason. Collage can be a lot more difficult than painting in some ways; besides, the cost alone of buying and collecting magazines my whole life far rivals collecting and using paint. Yes, sometimes I will paint the canvas one base color to start, but most of my art in the particular collection has been entirely magazines on canvas. I put extra effort into no paint being visible except the sides of the canvas, which are typically an inch thick off the wall.

Collage is about curating, collecting, and boasting about culture. We literally live in a collage, especially in America. I AM a collage and so are you! A collage is defined in the Webster Dictionary as a collection of items. I would add that our “identity” can be summed up as a collage as well. Identity is my favorite word because it’s so fascinating how it’s always evolving and changing over the decades. I find a lot of inspiration from that word. Identity is just a collection of items like your hometown, our birth certificates, and a couple of souvenirs like our favorite pair of shoes, pets, and any belongings kept that hold sentimental value, etc. Everything we don’t identify with gets cut up, burned or thrown in the trash.

Collage for me is about the influential power of, and the overwhelming access to images. Imagery is all around us. It’s not just print, but also digital media. Imagery can send our conscious to anywhere in the world from the comfort of our bed. Collage is a demonstration of my admiration for photography. A picture is really worth a thousand words, and it’s probably worth even more nowadays if you know what I mean. To summarize, I see collage techniques everywhere I look and I’m excited by the medium in a very unique way.

Self-Portrait – Allow Space

You say subjects are full of hidden items. Tell us more about that, and is there a message you are trying to send with each piece?

Michael: I hide “M&M” chocolate characters in all my collage because those are my initials. Some other things I like to hide a lot are Sharks because I like Jaws, and to me, they remind me of summers I spend on the east coast at the beach. Some other common items to find are apples, cameras, dice, guitars, gymnasts, American flags, scuba divers, surfers, plastic bottles, and scissors. These all have a meaning close to my story. The closer you know me, the more vivid you see my symbolism. One of my greatest influences is iSpy a Book of Visual Riddles by Walter Wick. iSpy is a great model for how to “gamify” art. In public shows, this technique thrives because it encourages people to exam the art longer and brings their friends back to share in the fun of finding the items. It’s as if I put a small art gallery inside of another existing art gallery.

I have made a few collages now of celebrities, sharks, waterfalls, and what I would call “earthly spirits”. I have done collage of “mother nature”, but she is an adolescent, so it’s more like “child nature” and it’s titled “Marina Eden”. I’m Christian and I spent summers by the ocean on a “marina” at summer camp, so references to my story are woven throughout my art. I use water as a symbol a lot because it’s a good metaphor for how we are inundated my imagery, flows to us all in multiple streams and rivers. I think we all find ourselves conflicted between taking care of nature and simultaneously caring for this quickly evolving information age.


You call your movement Maximalism, as you’ve explained it is the opposite of minimalism. What inspired you to pursue this style?

Michael: Maximalism is a commentary on truly being inspired by and grateful for everything around you, and the way I communicate that there are so many amazing things happening in the modern age all at once. Einstein was alive when my grandparents were! Maximalism is the “Age of Information”. Maximalism is the personalized internet: social media. Maximalism is the need to keep your viewer entertained because attention spans are decreasing and competition in all creative fields is increasing. Minimalists minimize their space and maximalists optimize their space. That’s not to say my art lacks one focal point. The smaller details will literally come into focus the closer you get to the canvas. Maximalism is an attempt to feel our collective sense of restraint. Maximalism asks each individual “what stands out to you here? What was the first thing you noticed? Why? What did you take away from all that information? why?”. Maximalism rewards the viewer’s scrutiny. Maximalism is photo journaling on steroids. Maximalism is a study into what images are shown to a 30-year-old adopted African American man (me) by the algorithm of life.

Pink sky collage

What is the process from start to final artwork, do you envision it from the beginning or is it a different process?

Michael: Step 1 is to paint the canvas a base color. Then use a projector to copy an image onto the canvas, then I trace it with a sharpie so it looks like a “paint by numbers”. I’ll use those lines as the skeleton of the collage. Step 2, I will collect colors and images from magazines and other print media that stand out to me or fit the concept being conveyed, such as the ocean, consumerism, or a particular person. Step 3 is to lay down the colors with glue sticks. I buy 24 packs of Scotch permanent clear-dry glue sticks from Amazon. In a rough and fast manner, I cover the canvas and all the white spots with the colorful magazine pages. Step 4 is the “iSpy phase”, where I add much more specific cut-out items from printed media. Step 5 is to spray the finished collage with a UV protector to keep the colors safe over the years, then seal the canvas with 2 layers of glossy Modge Podge. Then I wire the back of the canvas by hand so it can hang and the collage is complete!

This all typically takes 3 months depending on the size and the subject. I do a lot of stepping far back to look at the progress of the collage. I might glue something down with confidence, or I’ll move it to another part of the canvas before the glue dries. I like to work on multiple canvases at once, usually 3 at once.

Michael Manning-Leave 4ever

Do you ever experience creative blocks? And if yes, how do you overcome it?

Michael: No, it’s my job as a professional full-time artist to avoid creative blocks. For those who do experience them, I’d say this: read a book. Find a way to remember this sentiment: we all, more often than not, have TOO many ideas, but you just don’t think they’re “cool” enough or worth your time at the moment. We all have to choose our own path one project at a time. I always have something to create. What I do experience is creating something that does not match the vision I first had. It can get lost in translation, going from my heart to my head to my hand, then to reality. I choose collage because it’s exciting to see how it comes together and I have more time to translate the vision. I’m just as excited to see the end result as my fans are. There is no lack of creativity or problem-solving in this process. It’s like real-life Photoshop, you can’t go wrong! You can undo, rip things off, place them somewhere else, cut them in half, collage over them. I’m always looking to take collage techniques into everything else that I do.

Michael Manning-Dream Resor

What is your most recent piece of art that you have enjoyed working on the most?

Michael: I really enjoyed making a collage that was inspired by my first trip to Miami. I recently went as an exhibiting artist from June 4-7 for the Bitcoin Conference’s satellite events. My art was displayed digitally as NFT’s on televisions and monitors all over Miami Beach. I met and talked in-depth with some of the most talented artists from around the world and I will always have that trip as a story. I weaved that story into a self-portrait titled “You Title This #1”, which is a series that I intend to continue. I titled it “You Title This #1” because that encourages a very interesting and fun dialogue about what stands out to eat individual. I think that every new person will title it something new, and in doing so they will become a part of the art in some way.

It’s a self-portrait of me emerging from a body of water and plucking the moon from the northern lights in the sky just so I can sing to it. It’s psychedelic, it’s fun, it’s the boldest I’ve thus far because that trip was a bold trip to take at the time. In the collage I’m made up of a number of souvenirs from the trip that I kept, such as flyers I was handed, stickers, my actual plane ticket, and the wrist bands I wore to get in and out of my hotel that week. This feels like a “return to home” for the original collage technique I developed with my brother.


Do you have a real-life situation that inspired your artwork? If yes, what was it?

Michael: I shared a room with my brother growing up. We would write graffiti on our bedroom walls with paint pens, but that didn’t go very well with our parents. As a compromise, our parents allowed us to stay creative by collaging on our walls because they thought we could just take anything we didn’t like off. Of course, my brother and I collages as much as we possibly could because we knew the more we added, the harder it would be to rip off later. This collage was what we kept adding to throughout 7 years of middle school and high school. We glued everything on our walls. The tags from our Ecko t-shirts, polaroids of our friends, even candy wrappers and concert tickets were smacked onto the walls. By the time I had to take it down when I was leaving the house for college, we had long covered any and all white space on any of the walls of the room. I never forgot how much fun that was and I always knew that something very special had happened.

Also, I want to credit my first girlfriend, you know who you are! When I was 14 years old I would talk to this nameless girl on the phone every day for hours for an entire year, until we got to meet again for 8 weeks at summer camp. Over the school year, I drew a picture of her with a colored pencil. I spent a very long time on it and it was really good, but when I gave it to her to keep, she hated it and made me feel really bad about it. I ran home crying and in my frustration, I ripped up the drawing into tiny pieces. I never did anything else with that picture, nobody else saw it, it got swept into trash somewhere, but I remember the feeling of that experience vividly. I remember the feeling of working on something really hard that wasn’t worth the time I spent on it in the end. I took that with me and when I look at photographs that are amazing that sit in closed magazines I use collage so people get to see those lost images in a new light.

Clear thinking

What artists influenced you the most and why?

Michael: First and for most is Kanye West. I’m a Gemini, he’s a gemini. He has synesthesia, I have synesthesia. He’s African American, so am I. Sampling songs in Hip Hop music complements the sampling I do with images in collage. He’s a creative genius, I’m a creative genius too!

Second, I would have to say I feel a connection to Jackson Pollock’s paintings. He is a rebellious spirit and he has turbulence to his artwork, which just lights up all my creative lights in my brain, his art is so inspiring. He represents being fearless and just finding a sense of “flow” in the creative process.

Thirdly is Banksy. I hope you see this Banksy! I hope I’m spelling your name right and it’s not Bank$y. Your social commentary is so uniquely yours! It’s focused, potent, accurate, and most importantly it’s true.

Lastly is Salvador Dali because his surrealist dreamscapes speak to me on a very deep level as well. Dali’s work taught me to listen to and remember my dreams because they are influenced by my own subjective reality and there could be a lot of fascinating parts to them.

Extra Credit answer, since there are no women I’ve named thus far, I have to include Barbara Kruger who made the singer most influential work of art in the last century: “I shop therefore I am” and her powerful take on consumerism culture and graphic design. I love all my fellow collage artists, but I’ve been “The Collage Don” long enough to know that people would rather come up with rivalries to see with my peers more than they’d like to see us get along. I’m ok with that because behind closed doors I’m friendly with all of them.

Booming bloom

How has your art evolved over the years?

Michael: I have become increasingly bolder and more “loud” in my style with every completed work of art. I used to take art super seriously since I’ve had such a focus on “legacy”, but I feel an end to that phase and I’m having a lot of fun just experimenting with everything. I have always had a big imagination, but I once took LSD when I was 24 and after that, I felt very self-actualized. I’m constantly working to maintain the calm a felt after my experience. My first self-portrait represents my feeling of calm after that experience. I haven’t felt comfortable about speaking about my experience until recently since I turned 30 years old. It was 6 hours that I’ll never forget and I kept from people, but it wasn’t until I realized that the feeling of sharing it with others gave me relief. Taking LSD has become less and less taboo every year. I should say taking LSD has become safer and safer every passing year. I didn’t want people to think it was the main driver of my art. I didn’t want my family to think I was crazy. It was a one-time thing I did out of youthful naivety at a music festival, and it definitely could have been better. And my art is so much more about the oceans and the 24 years that happened before those 6 hours. But it has felt good to speak about it more, and it has added to people’s understanding of my particular eye for design, color, and concepts.

I have made a few NFTs and sold 2 thus far to some amazing art collectors. NFTs are an entirely new field and I think God only knows what the hell they actually are or where they’re going, but I have to say that the artists I have met through the NFT space have been absolutely the coolest people I’ve ever met. All of us were artists long before we were “NFT artists”. There is no doubt that we are all watching intensely what is happening for NFT artists and what this might mean for art ownership, distribution, and general creativity. Please don’t ask me what they are because I would just point you to check out the Clubhouse app where I first discovered them and the people making them.

Bob Marley

Do you see your art as serving a purpose beyond art?

Michael: The purpose of art is to communicate without sound. Artists are in the business of writing visual riddles. I want to make vivid riddles that leave the pieces for you to make what you want of it, or to invest more into knowing my story and where I came from. I’m a child of adoption so I’m always learning more and more every day about where I came from. I want to have an honest conversation with my viewers. I’m in the process of becoming more honest everyday day and with every work of art. I’m interested in leaving a legacy. If I am privileged enough to, I would also like to raise awareness for the health of the oceans, I want to continue a conversation about maintaining mental health in the age of information, and I want to show people that you can create anything you want as long as it comes from a place of sincerity. Creation for the sake of getting attention or getting “likes” is ironically a self-destructive act that might produce good art but will damage your integrity in the long run. Serve your community, be a good person, listen to your loved ones, parent yourself. Listen to your curiosity and wonder. Implement 100%, nothing half-assed. Observe, be honest, and then adjust, and do that forever, or shut the fuck up and live a half-assed life for what feels like forever until you wake up and realize that this party ends. Enjoy all of it, the struggles, the confusion, the doubt, and frustration, that’s life. Life is truth, and your self-truth is all that is valuable. Fuck money, it comes and goes. Money validates the things we find valuable. it’s up to us to fairly circulate the money and distribute it to those who need it. Do what’s valuable for the people you think are valuable. And if you can be powerful for the people who have no power, do it. One love, god’s love. Rip in peace!


To learn more about Michael and his art, please check:

Thank you!

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