One of our favourite artists Phil Galloway interviewed Gene-Manuel Whirling. Gene is a fellow beard artist with an amazing gift, he also has a unique story.
I was hugely honored to be the featured on TheBeardMag, so I then jumped at the chance to catch up with a fellow artist and beard lover Gene-Manuel Whirling, and to gain more of an insight into his vibrant beard appreciation and spectacularly intricate art. Read his interview below.
Gene, your art predominantly features fine bearded gents, why so?
Yes, yes it does Phil. After years creating work on pop-spiritual art, I was inspired by Ricky Hall and his beard to create the first bearded gent piece, titled “Kiran (Ray of Light).” Ever since that first piece, I haven’t stopped. These bearded fellas just kept coming and became what I call The Illumined Ones Series. The most joyful time I’ve had in my studio has been creating these guys and their beards.
Has the comeback of the beard brought more people to your art?
It definitely has, for sure. Since I started the series in September of 2014, the bearded work has become my most popular. And it goes beyond attracting the interest of the public, which is awesome and welcomed, but they’ve made me become more focused and inspired to work. There’s a great quote that says “If you think beards are just a trend, you need a history lesson” and I agree with that. The beard has been and will be around forever. I’m glad because I’m not quite done with creating bearded work!
Your work evokes imagery from many areas of religious icons and spirituality, what have been your influences and is there a message in your work?
I’ve always been fascinated by symbols and icons and they’ve always been a part of my work since I started creating visual art back in 2008. I’m not at all religious but I would say I’ve been seeking for the reason I’m here on this planet for a while. So, my work has been inspired by the many roads of self-discovery I’ve been on and trying to find the magic in this experience we call life. And that’s one of the things I keep trying to portray in the work. . . magic and mysticism. . . that’s what all of the bearded guys are all about. They each possess a certain wondrous quality that I strive to possess myself.
Your works are very intricate, what do you paint them in and how long does one take to make? Are beards tough to paint?
I work on paper. I love the feel of really good, thick paper and currently I’m using Strathmore’s 500 Series Bristol. All the work is then created with markers, pencils, ink and acrylic paint and anything else I can get my hands on really. It’s not a Whirling Art piece without Prismacolor’s metallic gold and silver markers and lastly, a piece isn’t finished unless I’ve used Sakura Gelly Roll pens.
There is great detail in the work but I enjoy that the most. The more details there are for me to play with the happier I become. The time it takes me to create one depends on the size of the piece. Smaller work can take a few days to a week. Large pieces like the bearded guy I’m working on now, can take a month or two.
In regards to the beards, I have to admit that they’ve never given me a problem. I’ve never approached them with the intent of making them look very life-like, you know what I mean? I want them to look as other-worldly as possible so I just go with it.
What’s the beard scene like in New York and is there a favourite barbers to head to if I visit?
Beards are everywhere in NYC right now. At first I wasn’t sure if it was just that my working on beards was making me more aware of them, but it’s not that. In fact, I might start walking around asking people to take pics of their beards because there are some really great beards out there and I’m always looking for models.
As far as favorite barbers, one I’m about to try because they come highly recommended is Barbiere (barbierenyc.com) in the East Village. It’s a great little spot that instantly feels familiar and comfortable. Plus, from what I’ve seen, they do great work.
Beards and artists have been friends throughout history, do you not fancy letting your own face create one?
I knew you were going to ask me that! Yes, yes I do fancy creating a beard of my own. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t happen Phil. I’ve tried a few times in the past and I’m cursed with these patches on my face that refuse to grow any hair on them. What I think I will do is create a self-portrait with a great big beard! That’ll teach my face who’s boss!
So, you’re colour blind!? How does that affect your art process and palette?
I am but I haven’t let it get in my way of creating colorful art. When I’m working, I let go of any limitations or inhibitions and allow the work to just happen. . . go on instinct. The only times I’ve had to ask for help with color have been when I was working on commissioned portraits and needed to get the eye color as perfect as possible. Other than that, again, I just surrender and allow the art to just come forth, in a sense.
Favourite beard from history?
Ernest Hemingway. From salt and pepper to snowy white, he kept a great looking beard.
What’s your proudest achievement in your art career so far?
Every time I create a piece I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment because art wasn’t something I thought I’d ever be doing. I’d also say that any time I get a commission or a sale, those are moments that have an impact because I don’t ever take them for granted. If the work has resonated with someone to the point that they have felt the need or desire to own it, I think that’s huge!
What are your plans for the future and will it feature a beard?
I’m continuing to work on the bearded gentlemen and have started working on larger pieces. I’m currently working on Illumined One No. 13 and already No. 14 is in line. I’d like to put together an exhibition of these mystical bearded gents sometime this year. I’m also looking to design & sell products featuring my work, wearable art. Along with that bearded self-portrait, there’s plenty more bearded art in my future!
Top tip for any of our creative hirsute readers?
Ah! Great word, hirsute. Isn’t it? My advice for everyone is to always be authentically YOU. Listen to your gut instinct and strive to do what makes you feel good and brings some of your uniqueness to the planet, whether it’s in the form of art, music, literature or a really awesome beard!