Taking Art to Another Dimension
By Melanie A. Cissone
“I get much of my inspiration when I’m surfing,” says mixed-media artist Andy Saczynski, who, with wedding and family portrait photographer Ryan Manthey, is creating new works that bring out the best of their respective talents. With layered strokes from a paint-covered brush, Saczynski transforms a Manthey landscape photo into a rich, dimensional work of art that captures the essence of time and place. The sum, in this case, brings all the parts to life.
Influenced greatly and encouraged by his Niceville High School art teacher, Saczynski was compelled to create art at a young age. He says, “I’ve had it in my mind since third grade.” His teacher, Vivian Komando, guided him through the creation of a portfolio that led to a scholarship to Northwest Florida State College (then known as Okaloosa-Walton Community College or OWCC). He says, “Mrs. Komando gave me awesome confirmation and positive reinforcement.” Komando recalls, “Andy was the type of art student where I couldn’t wait to see what he would do next.” Saczynski also credits the late Arnie Hart, his art instructor in college, with wrangling him away from getting too lost in his own world or too comfy with a particular style.
Saczynski’s greatest inspirations for his assemblage of works, however, are his mother and her collection of antiques and objects. In describing his parents’ home, he smiles warmly and says, “There’s random, interesting stuff. My mother has five or six armoires in the living room—and she makes it work.”
Saczynski’s father, who suffers from ALS, is a retired Air Force pilot and former government contractor. The youngest of three, Andy was born in England when his father was stationed there. During these posts abroad, Andy’s mother developed an eye for antiques, particularly handmade, primitive folk-inspired pieces. The emotion of mentioning his father’s condition takes Saczynski by surprise. He pauses for a moment and says, “It was a very inspiring home to grow up in.”
“I love to do the woodworking for an assemblage piece. When each different object comes into play, the piece begins to take form and come into its own.”
The father of five children, Saczynski is fascinated by the convertible shapes of recycled materials, and he is masterful at repurposing such things into art. Like his mother, he also has a collection of found items (some that have come from his parents’ house). Under his studio work table, he has a pile of piano keys. The keys, parts of a crutch, and a fishing reel, along with carefully painted patterns, became a piece called Grande Sailfish, which hangs in Saczynski’s studio-gallery at the colorful Shops of Grayton cottages in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.
“I love to do the woodworking for an assemblage piece,” Saczynski says. Referring to the growing dimension and emerging personality of his multimedia art pieces, he continues, “When each different object comes into play, the piece begins to take form and come into its own.” The few collaborative pieces that he and Manthey have done thus far are no different; Manthey sees one thing through the lens of a camera, and Saczynski amplifies that photographic image with color and dimension until their works are, in a sense, reborn.
Zen-like in nature, surfing can have a meditative quality to it that many surfers, Saczynski included, describe as inspirational. When there are waves, Andy is out catching them. Along the beautiful Northwest Florida coast, however, good surfing is often reserved for those times when a storm is brewing. Saczynski enjoyed surfing regularly when he and his wife, Lori, lived in Jacksonville for a few years, but as he recalls, “It never really felt like home.”
Having bounced from odd jobs to construction to ultimately owning his own landscaping business by 2010, Saczynski transitioned over the next two years into becoming a full-time artist and opened his studio-gallery in 2012. He says, “I felt like I needed to go for it. I had to try.” Modest by nature, the baritone-voiced artist takes satisfaction in his successful passion. “It’s a blessing to be able to provide for my wife and our family.”
Manthey sees one thing through the lens of a camera, and Saczynski amplifies that photographic image with color and dimension until their works are, in a sense, reborn.
Unlike Florida native Saczynski, Ryan Manthey grew up in the Great Plains—in Ramona, South Dakota, population 174—as the youngest of five children. When Manthey’s eldest sister got married, she moved to Florida and was slowly followed by her whole family, and Manthey became a freshman at Rocky Bayou Christian School in Niceville, Florida. He graduated from Niceville High School, attended the former OWCC as Saczynski did, and then began working in the Manthey family business of land planning, dirt hauling, and construction cleanup. Reflecting on the time when he and Saczynski were friends but neither was a full-time artist, Manthey says, “I always admired how Andy used recycled objects and turned them into art. When I was working for my dad, I would give Andy interesting items that we sometimes stumbled on at a job.”
Manthey’s wife, Erica, who today manages the couple’s photography business, Pure7 Studios, had asked her dad to recommend a good digital camera that she could buy as a gift for Ryan when their first child was born. Unwittingly, Erica had hatched a new career in photography for her husband and for their family.
“I was hooked. I shot photos of our daughter and then friends’ children, family portraits, and weddings. It just snowballed.”
Not having been remotely curious or knowledgeable about photography up to that point, Manthey says, “I was hooked. I shot photos of our daughter and then friends’ children, family portraits, and weddings. It just snowballed.” In those early years, Manthey was still working for his father, but his blossoming interest in photography was fast becoming a livelihood. “I knew that the work I was doing for dad wasn’t my passion.”
Completely self-taught, Manthey credits practice and “lots of failing” to the successful wedding, family portrait, and commercial photography business he and his wife have developed into Pure7 Studios. He says, “I may not know the supertechnical side of photography, but I understand light and composition really well.” Describing the difference between work and passion, Manthey pronounces, “Photography doesn’t ever feel like I punch a timecard.”
Even though Erica, Saczynski, and Lori had known each other in high school, it wasn’t until after the Mantheys were married for a couple of years that the two couples and their growing families connected. Manthey says, “Our kids get together.”
With a desire to complement his photography business with artistic projects about which he is passionate, and having always envisioned a collaboration with Saczynski, Manthey mentioned something about his longtime dream to his friend about a year ago. “It was a dream that I had never really brought up to Andy or anyone else before,” Manthey says. “I reached out to Andy and Lori, who were immediately on board. Andy saw it as something cool to do and sketched out our artistic vision.” They got to work.
Their combined creative talent began with Afternoon Showers, a sunset landscape of the iconic slash pines on the eastern edge of Western Lake near WaterColor, Florida. “I secretly call them the ‘money trees,’” reveals Saczynski, referring to the view’s popularity among tourists, photographers, and artists. Manthey laughs and confirms, “You can’t go wrong with that image. It sells.” Currently hanging at Saczynski’s studio-gallery, the sixty-by-forty-inch multimedia piece is a photo of the hardy yellow pines against a warm auburn sunset, with voluminous white clouds and the blackish-blue of the approaching night sky all cut in with paint.
Their combined styles and mediums make the imagery jump off the canvas, making an otherwise two-dimensional work seem three-dimensional, as if you were standing in the very place you are admiring.
Afternoon Showers and the subsequent collaborative pieces that Saczynski and Manthey have created are unique. Their combined styles and mediums make the imagery jump off the canvas, making an otherwise two-dimensional work seem three-dimensional, as if you were standing in the very place you are admiring. The two men have reached beyond landscapes and created collaborative oeuvres of families, cityscapes, and even wedding parties.
Manthey and Saczynski both admit that collaboration brings one inherent challenge—finding the time to be in the same room to develop concepts, especially during Florida’s busy summer tourism season. Nonetheless, Saczynski describes what the two are doing: “We’re bringing new life, beauty, and purpose to an image. It’s a really cool thing to do.” Manthey, who wants to work on more projects with Andy, is positive about the future of where they can take their creative venture. “The sky’s the limit,” he says.
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