by Anne Jano
Eric Mannella is the kind of person that instantly gives you good vibes with his easy-going attitude and friendly energy. Mannella is a figurative artist; his award-winning oil paintings focus on the human body. He studied his craft in Toronto at York University and in New York City at the New York Academy of Art—considered two of the best art schools in North America. Mannella is also the director and co-founder (his wife Allana Benham is also co-founder) of Atelier de Brésoles, an art school in Old Montreal.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a figurative artist?
When I was a young child, about seven or eight years old. I was drawing Spider-Man and aspired to be a comic book artist.
Why did you choose to study figurative art at the New York Academy of Art?
The New York Academy of Art is one of the only schools in the world that offers a Master’s degree that specializes in figurative art. This, plus the fact that the teachers were all world-class artists, and New York being a major hotbed of the arts, made this school my first choice for graduate studies.
How has your Italian heritage influenced your work as an artist?
My Italian heritage shaped my artistic direction in a profound way. I had an early interest in the Italian masters such as Raphael, Leonardo and Michelangelo, to name a few. I have studied the entire history of Italian art at university, which eventually sparked an interest in painting realistically in the manner of the old masters. Visiting Florence with my wife Allana was a magical experience that inspired the two of us to open our school in Montreal as soon as we returned to Canada.
How has your Italian-Canadian heritage influenced your life?
From an early age, my Italian-Canadian heritage has shaped my identity. I can recall family visits to my grandfather’s house in North Bay, where he would treat us to dinner at the local Italian restaurants. The love of Italian cuisine has stayed with me my entire life. My father is a real history buff and would tell me stories of the Roman Empire and its conquests. Growing up in a Roman Catholic family also provided a cultural link that helped me understand the stories and meanings of the art that would shape my artistic direction.
What makes you the most passionate about figurative art?
Figurative art allows me to become aware of the world around me in a very unique way. You can see more, which allows you to feel more, and this heightened sense of awareness is very special to me. Our school that we founded in 2003 is dedicated to figurative art and has become an important resource for professionals and beginners in all aspects of the arts. We attract people from the videogame industry, tattoo artists, fine artists and people who have a love for visual art and are passionate about learning.
Do you have a favourite painting?
I recently painted a portrait of my five-year-old daughter that I am really proud of. It has a feeling of a particular time and place that makes it timeless for me.
What accomplishments are you most proud of so far?
Receiving a scholarship from HRH Prince Charles and a travel grant from Forbes when I was a teacher’s assistant at the New York Academy is one of my favourite accomplishments. Starting our school with my wife is the other one.
Do you have any tips for someone interested in becoming a figurative artist?
My advice for anyone looking to develop their skills in the figurative arts is to be patient with one’s self and to enjoy the practice because it takes a long time!