Graphic Surrealism

A definition by artist and ism creator, Mana Lesman

Combining abstract symbolism with recognizable images, Mana Lesman has drawn much of her inspiration from original forms of our alphabet, hieroglyphics and other symbols of ancient cultures. She calls her work graphic surrealism. Of particular interest are pieces featuring the periodic table of elements; the alphabet; myriad architectural elements: especially those of decoration or gingerbread on buildings both ancient and modern; myths; early Celtic and northern European decorative designs including knot patterns and key patterns; jewelry, carpet, ceramics and fabric decoration. It appears to me, says Lesman, that at some point in time, all of these decorative images carried significant messages and were probably precursors to signs, symbols and ultimately writing. We have long since forgotten the specific messages they conveyed, but such decorations (such as the egg and dart borders on room interiors, Ukrainian Easter egg decorations, the paisley design on fabrics) still strike a deep chord in us and satisfy some deep need to find meaning and comfort in our universe.

The seeds of graphic surrealism came when I was experimenting with tempera, says the Billings native who returned to Montana in 1985. I was toying with abstract shapes I could twist and contort.

Part of Lesman s inspiration was the graffiti art she saw in Chicago, But I just don t paint on trains or school yards, she says. I also did not wish to copy the young graffiti artists of the mid 80s but chose to go in my own direction.

Starting with old symbols and pictograms, seeing these as ancient graffiti the artist first dubbed her work, heiro-graffiti.

It came together in bitsand pieces, she says. I read National Geographic a lot while my father was ill, and began reading about Middle Eastern cultures and archeology. There are a lot of decorative motifs in architecture and jewelry, many of which have meaning. I think they speak to something elemental in us some go back 30,000 years to caves in Europe and Palestine.

Lesman does a lot of reading and study of ancient myth and history to inspire the development of images for her paintings. From North American Native American symbols to East Indian Chakras, no early society is without its decorative symbols and juxtaposed to each other, they have lessons to teach us about the universal qualities of mankind, about the ebb and flow of cultures, and the specific interpretations of that which is beautiful which touches us all.

No two of Lesman s paintings are the same, and most are quite dissimilar. Each is a message of beauty and, according to Lesman, a question of why the specific images were chosen and what the message was meant to convey.