Known for his painterly figurative sculpture, Manuel Neri has remained devoted to representing the human form, despite the dominance of abstraction in the art world during the postwar years, when he started out. Born in 1930 in Sanger, California, near Fresno, Neri spent most of his childhood in Southern California. At San Francisco City College he developed an interest in ceramics while taking a course taught by Peter Voulkos, and it led him to enroll at the San Francisco Art Institute in 1950, where he studied under Richard Diebenkorn and Elmer Bischoff.
Soon Neri found the medium of pottery and ceramics too confining. He began to experiment with plaster and various supports, beginning with random detritus from his studio, such as cardboard and wire. Taking the human form as a “blank canvas,” Neri from the late 1950s on devoted himself almost exclusively to his signature life-size plaster sculptures. He came to be recognized as a prominent member of the second-generation Bay Area Figurative movement, and to this day he remains active in the San Francisco art scene, while also maintaining a studio in Italy. Neri has held several teaching positions, including at his alma mater, the California School of Fine Arts, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Davis.
Recent exhibitions of his work include Manuel Neri: Assertion of the Figure at the Anderson Collection at Stanford University in 2018 and Manuel Neri: The Human Figure in Plaster and on Paper at the Yale University Art Gallery in 2019. Neri has received many awards and fellowships, including the International Sculpture Center’s Lifetime Achievement Award, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s Bay Area Treasure Award, and a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. His work has been acquired by numerous major institutions, including by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; and the Art Institute of Chicago. The artist maintains studios in northern California and Carrara, Italy