The art of Sanda Manuila: ‘Visual comments of a world on the edge’ | Arts & Theatre


At first glance, the paintings near the entrance of the Napa Library look like enlarged images of the pressed flowers you might find in one of your grandmother’s old books. Though the moisture that plumped up the roses is gone, the beauty that remains is everlasting.

Masterfully executed, some of Sanda Manuila’s paintings evoke memories of the serenity found in a bygone era, but it would be a mistake to think her art is meant to be pretty or to arouse sentimentality. Rather, her art is “visual comments of a world on the edge.”

“In the last few years, events have been troublesome and the future uncertain. Everything is in flux. My work reflects this heightened reality,” Manuila said during an interview at the library last week.

“I want my work to be confrontational and emotionally charged,” she continued. “I aim at engaging the viewer with surprise, doubt and curiosity and to raise many conversations in these challenging times.”

Her oil and pastel paintings, on exhibit at the library this month — though beautiful – illustrate the fear of loss and the struggle for survival. She chooses dead roses, decaying vegetation, birds or insects as her “muses” to illustrate how “fauna and flora are so integrated into their environment that they merge into it.”

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“I love dead roses. I like them better than fresh roses. I’ve been working with them for several years The dead roses in this painting are getting liquified because of the storm,” Manuila said, pointing to one of her paintings.

“That doesn’t make sense because dead roses are dry, they can’t be liquified,” she said. “That’s what’s happening today. It is like what we are doing to Mother Nature. Even when we abuse her, nature remains beautiful.”

Manuila paints visual stories with an allegorical quality to engage viewers to question what they see and how they feel.

“I paint poetry,” she said.

Her visual stories reveal a state of mind in which the boundaries between dreams and reality have become very fluid, she explains. Her purpose is to make art that depicts the challenges of life and warn about the danger of denial of climate change.

Monarch butterflies, crows and roses appear in many of her paintings. There is an ethereal beauty in the way she has portrayed drops of water on trellis wires surrounded by monarch butterflies in one of the paintings.

Manuila will never forget the “indescribable feeling” she experienced while seeing millions of monarch butterflies together when she took a trip to the fir forests of Mexico’s Central Highlands, where they migrate each winter.

“My work has two stages. Everywhere I go, when I see anything interesting, I take a photo so I have zillions of photos. Then, I start doing double and triple exposures with these photos and then use various apps — and I know what each app is doing,” she said. “Then I have an image. When I have an image I really like, I paint it.”

Manuila, born in Geneva, Switzerland to Romanian political refugees, said she experienced expatriation and isolation at a very early age, which gives her a deep empathy for the Ukrainian people.

Growing up in Switzerland, she was recognized for her artistic ability at a young age. In first grade, her teacher, noticing how “driven” Manuila was to draw and paint, put her in a corner of the classroom to paint.

“My teacher said, ‘I want you to paint for me a few tiles.’ The other students were doing math,” Manuila said, chuckling as she recalled the satisfaction, she had felt at getting to do what she loved while getting out of her least favorite subject.

When she was a teenager Manuila often dreamed about California. As a young adult, she came to the land of her dreams with the intention of staying a year but has remained here for decades. She is a resident of St. Helena.

Manuila honed her artistic skills over the years by studying art with respected instructors in various places in the world.

She has studied art at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Bordeaux, France; Atelier Bessil in Montpellier, France; and at Cornish Institute of the Arts in Seattle, Washington.

More recently, she has traveled to Italy to study at the Angel Academy in Florence and the Rome Artworks in Rome. Additionally, she participated in an artist residency at Dacia Gallery in New York City and in Sibiu, Romania.

She studied with Charles Becker in Sebastopol for nine years and with Gail Chase Bien and Nancy Willis in Napa.

Manuila has participated in many exhibits including the Napa Valley Museum in Yountville; the Marin Moca in Novato; Art Works Downtown in San Rafael; the Southern Nevada Museum of Modern Art in Las Vegas; NV Dacia Gallery and First Street Gallery in NYC; as well as Arc Gallery in Tracy, California; and the De Young Museum in San Francisco.

“Art has been my salvation,” Manuila said.

An opening reception for Manuila’s art exhibit is scheduled for Friday, May 13, from 6:15 to 7:30 p.m. Registration is required to attend the reception and art talk. Register at

To see more of her work, go to

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