Steve Mancione

Workingman's Art

I am a Chicago based artist who has always been drawn to what many traditional art critics might call "low-brow art".  Graphitti, comic books, and cartoons have always interested me most, I think because they are the most relatable to the public at large.  Making art for the .5% of the population that actually goes to "white cube" galleries doesn't seem practical to me.  Those people are all artists, art critics, or art teachers.  They already come to the work with predisposed notions of whatever theory they are currently regurgetating.  In my mind, it takes more balls to do artwork that everyone, from every class has access to.  A tag on a brick wall will be seen by more people than a framed work in a gallery.  But it's not exposure I'm after, it's opening up the vacuum sealed bubble of the art world to everyone, not just the people in the "art club".  I want people who would never walk into a gallery to be able to see my work.  Regular people without trust funds and people who have no idea what "post-modern" means.  My family, colleagues and friends are hard working individuals who will most likely never know a -shall we say - "priviledged" life. So that's who I make art for because I can actually relate to them and hopefully they can relate to me.  I guess I'll sum this up in a quote from one of my favorite childhood movies. 

"I make car parts for the American working man, because that's what I am. And that's who I care about."

                                                                    -Ray Zalinsky (Dan Akroyd)

Tinley Park's Benches on the Avenue 2013

Azlan's Return...The Bench 2013

The finished bench on Oak Park Avenue

The finished bench on Oak Park Avenue

Each year the Village of Tinley Park holds a community art project called Benches on the Avenue.  Artists from all around the South suburbs of Chicago are called to submit designs based on a theme chosen by the village.  The parameters of these designs are focused on turning an otherwise ordinary public bench into a sculptural work of art.  Each bench is then placed along Oak Park Avenue in Tinley Park's beautiful historic district, which is home to many of the town's restaurants, taverns, and businesses.

This year's theme was "Fairy-Tale Festival".  It challenged artists to draw inspiration from fairy tales old and new to transform the heart of Tinley into a fantasy world of mythical creatures, knights, and far away lands.

The design I submitted was based on the first book of the Chronicles of Narnia, entitled The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.  The title of my design is Azlan Returns.

The back of the bench

The back of the bench

Here is the design I submitted...

design.jpg
back design.jpg

A couple of weeks later, the project manager called and said that I had been selected from a large pool of submissions to create a bench for the city.  After a brief meeting with the other participating artists and the project manager, I picked up what would essentially be the skeleton of my bench.

Bench raw.jpg

It was definitely nice to have a starting point, but I had quite a bit of work ahead of me.  The artists received their benches approximately 7 weeks before they had to be returned, completed and ready for installation.  As 2D work turns to 3D you have to turn what was basically an idea on paper into..well...reality.  This is where quite a bit of engineering and imagination comes in.  

To communicate the idea that the bench and the wardrobe were not separate, but one piece was critical to me.  I wanted it to be a seamless transition, but the pre-existing bench skeleton posed inherent problems.  Due to the pre-fabricated back being angled and longer than the length of the bench, I had to figure out a way to puzzle the wardrobe pieces over them, without creating a glaring oddity.  Thanks to some master carpentry from Steve Mancione Sr. (my dad)  we found a way to cut notches out of the boards to fit (almost) perfectly right over the top of the bench-back.

step 1.jpg

Once we had that ordeal under control, we could assemble the top or "roof".  We braced the insides of the wardrobe to keep it structurally sound and put mounting boards in to attach the paintings.  After we had the frame of the wardrobe, we attached the doors to the sides, opening outward to invite the viewer in.  After quite a bit of painting, sanding, staining, and varnishing we had our finished product...

Front view (excuse the mess)

Front view (excuse the mess)

Back 1/4 view (after working some magic to get it out of the "studio")

Back 1/4 view (after working some magic to get it out of the "studio")

Flower boxes were included with the bench, here is the viewer's front left.

Flower boxes were included with the bench, here is the viewer's front left.

Side

Side

Back left box

Back left box

Head on view of the back painting

Head on view of the back painting

Front right box

Front right box

Side right box

Side right box

Back right box

Back right box

Lion head fittings I found for the doors!

Lion head fittings I found for the doors!

I was very satisfied with the final results.  My design came to life exactly how I envisioned.  The wardrobe serves as a literal element in the story as the opening from our world to Narnia, but is also designed to invite the viewer into the fantasy by framing the paintings on either side.  It functions as a gateway for the audience to peek into the story, when Azlan (the lion) returns to Narnia and brings Spring with him as he drives away winter, and the White Queen.  I wanted to create the experience that the entire wardrobe and bench were the same piece of furniture and could in fact be the entryway to Narnia.

 I am ecstatic to be a part of such an exciting community project that has become a mainstay in Tinley Park for over 10 years.  I could not be more proud to be among my fellow bench artists from this year, I am truly honored to display my work along side theirs.  Special thanks to my father for the amazing construction help.

Benches will be on display May 9th!

So what are you waiting for?!? Come down to Oak Park Avenue's Benches on the Avenue Fairy Tale Festival and take a seat (or 20)!