Meet self-taught, mixed-media artist, Gene-Manuel Whirling

The Future’s Looking Back At Us – Mixed media on Yupo paper 8 x 8 inches

Gene-Manuel Whirling is a self-taught, mixed-media artist, who follows his instincts when it comes to the work he creates. He learns by doing and does his best to not let the fear of “not knowing” get in the way of making art.

By Lisa K Salerno

Your current series of abstracts with the alcohol inks & fluid acrylics are so beautiful. Would you tell me a little bit about your process in making these and what does abstract painting mean to you?

Thank you so much. I’m having a blast creating these. My process is very simple. It all started with Instagram and seeing these amazing artists creating with the alcohol inks. I did very little research and then dove in. At first I was using India inks mixing them with alcohol and acrylics and now I’ve gone full alcohol inks, which are great. But, the entire process is actually me jumping into the work without a net or expectations for the outcome of the work. I’ve found through the years that the more I do the actual work, the more I learn in that “doing” stage. I make lots of mistakes along the way and some of them cause me to throw out whatever I’ve been working on because it can’t be saved. Although most of the time, I’m able to learn from the mistakes and incorporate them into the work. So, in a nutshell, my process with these abstracts is to try anything and everything and see what happens.

In answer to the last part of your question, abstract painting means freedom. I will be 100% honest and say that until I started working with the Yupo paper and the inks, I wasn’t really into abstract work. It was as if my brain was stuck on this thought pattern that what I created had to “look” like something. Does this make sense? Strangely enough, for someone that dislikes labels of all kinds and wholeheartedly believes that people have the right to make whatever they want, however they want, and do whatever they want with their work/life, etc., I was stuck in this mindset of my work having to be easily recognizable and accessible. I didn’t know this until quite recently when I started working on the abstracts.

A Galaxy Tucked Away

My first one, A Galaxy Tucked Away In Some Forgotten Corner Of A Universe, was actually in the trash pile overnight because it didn’t make sense to me at first. Then the next day, I went into my studio and picked it back up and “saw” it. That galaxy that is mentioned in the title. I saw it! And it was beautiful and it made me happy. I also felt the freedom that came with it. I was able to go from there and just create and allow the art to guide me to its completion.

Love Will Always Win – Mixed media collage art on canvas 20 x 20 inches

It’s A Long Journey To Become The One – Mixed media collage art on canvas 20 x 20 inches

Your paintings “Love Will Always Win” and “Its A Long Journey To Become the One” appear to be cousins of your abstracts however with the addition of collage elements depicting same-sex couples throughout history. What do these pieces mean to you?

My intention with the collage work is to shine a light on the LGBTQIA community, especially those that came before us. The people that allowed themselves to be captured on film, displaying their love and affection, in times that weren’t necessarily the most open and accepting. These were brave individuals and I love being able to feature them in the work. And in doing so, even though we have a long way to go, I’m also amazed at how far we’ve come. I mean, I’m old enough to remember when it would have been truly revolutionary and brave to create something like these two pieces! I remember when being gay was still something you didn’t talk about openly for fear of what could happen to you. So, just being able to create these pieces and show them on social media for everyone to see and to then have them be accepted and admired like they have been…that’s huge for me.

To Be On Fire From Within – Mixed media on clapboard 5 x 5 inches

Your recent painting To Be On Fire From Within really struck a chord with me as a lot of my work also picks up on this concept. Do you think having a fire in our belly is what makes us artists? What kindles the spark?

I actually think we are all born with a small fire in our bellies and how that flame gets treated determines what will happen to it and how the individual uses that fire. I think artists are the ones that usually become aware of that fire from within and aren’t afraid to use it to create. But I really do think we all have it and the more we pay attention to it, to that fire or maybe someone will call it “gut instinct,” the happier we can be. Because, from experience, the fire never dies. When I’ve stopped working on my art or my music, etc. and have decided to just do nothing for whatever reason, be it depression or exhaustion, whatever, that little light inside might flicker and fade but it never goes away. I’ve always felt it. Reminding me that I have work to do.

For me, other artists kindle that spark within. Seeing your work, for example, and how open and honest you are with your writing and sharing, that kindles the spark of creativity in me. That’s one of the reasons I love Instagram so much. I really could NOT care less about someone’s latest new shoes or vacation spot or food. But show me what you’re working on, what you’ve created or give me a sneak peek at your studio and your process and you’ve got a follower. And I’m grateful to those artists that are out there, day in and day out, making art and letting us know about it. Letting us in and being vulnerable. That’s exciting and inspiring.

King Aster – Mixed media on paper 14 x 11 inches

Your beautiful bearded men series is just so appealing to me, with its mandala-like designs and stylish beards. Can you tell me a little more about what inspired this series?

One person inspired the entire series and his name is Ricki Hall. (@RickiSamHall on Instagram) He’s a British model whose looks change all the time but a few years ago, he had this amazing beard. One day, I had a vision pop in my mind, just a flash, of a piece with Ricki’s face and beard. It was a very quick mental image but I rushed to the studio and found a photo of him and created my first bearded gent, KIRAN. I then used Ricki as a reference model for many of my bearded guys, which I call The Illumined Ones. I was able to chat with Ricki and show him some of the work he inspired and he really loved them and gave me his blessings, which I’m grateful for.

Kiran_Ricki Hall

Also, I was so surprised to read in your bio that you are color blind? I couldn’t believe it because I felt like your color was so on point! Seriously??

I have to get this professionally checked because there’s more to it than just color blind and maybe using color blind is the wrong term. Although I have major issues distinguishing between reds and greens, I do see color. I just think I see them waaaay different than most people. Meaning I can walk in to a room with different shades of purples, and to me that room will look pretty much the same, all one color. But, I will know that it’s in the blue or purple family.

I don’t know if I’m making sense because it’s just hard to explain. That’s why everything in my studio has to be labeled so that I know what I’m using because, as an example, it’s very easy for me to be working with teal, turn around and come back and start working with dark blue, thinking it’s teal. It all looks the same to me. Therefore, I have to mark what colors I’m working with and be vigilant. This is another reason why abstract work appeals so much because it really taps into my working with my instincts and letting the art lead the way.

Anything else you’d like to share?

Well, I’d like to thank you so much for your kindness and encouraging words about my work. I truly appreciate it and you and your work inspire me on a daily basis, so thank you, thank you, thank you. I guess the main thing I’d like to let people know is that with art, and life to some extent, feel free to make up the rules as you go along and allow yourself to create, make mistakes, and keep creating. Let a sense of freedom be your guide and let go of anything that you feel is restricting the flow of your work because once you do that, incredible things can happen. Amazing art then has the passage way to come through. Keep doing what ignites that fire from within!

Connect with Gene-Manuel Whirling (Great interviews, etc…I highly recommend checking out!)

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