Calling Colin Manning's work "tough to describe" is a bit of an understatement. Instead of a film in the traditional sense, Manning's work is more like amorphous forms of color and sound. The Portland-based artist's films are essentially  collages: disparate films, patterns and advertisements projected on top of each other.

That may sound unusual, but unusual is exactly what Manning wants. "I'm not trying to reach anyone specific," he tells WW. "Generally, I'm just trying to reach people who have open minds."

Manning's work is getting a retrospective at NW Film Center on September 14. The show includes music from Guillotine Boys and Doug Theriault before screening a collection of Manning's early work. The performance caps off with a new piece that combines "diary-based animation" with video collage.
Retrospectives like this don't happen often, because it's rare to encounter an artist with a body of work large enough to warrant one. Manning, however, has two decades worth of work. Mostly collage and projection-based multimedia pieces, his films are highly imaginative, and his prolific portfolio includes collaborations with the likes of  Yoko Ono and Ariel Pink.

But Colin Manning isn't a name many will recognize in Portland. If you reach his voicemail, he mentions his holiday lighting business, which helps pay the bills. His YouTube channel viewership hovers around 500.

Manning's work might be niche, but Los Angeles and San Francisco turned out to be the perfect hub for it. After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, Manning took jobs running projections for dance clubs. He eventually relocated to LA, and has since worked with musicians like Consumer, creating projections for concerts and using their music in film installations. "I didn't mean to work directly with musicians," he says. But collaborations with musicians lead to the creation of much of Manning's work, and the psychedelic quality of his art makes the combination with dance music seem inevitable.

While San Francisco helped him birth his unique vision and LA provide a market for his work, he calls Portland "as artsy a city as you can find anywhere." Since moving here five years ago, he's integrated himself into the art scene and worked with Portland-based artists like harpist Sage Fisher.

"Categorized by money, and how much money you can make [with art], LA is far more important," he says. "But I knew I could feel a little more free and happy [in Portland], and have the time to work on my art…I have a lot more space for making art and making a mess. I just felt more freedom."

Yoko Ono remains Manning's most famous collaborator, though Manning is modest about the whole experience. "That was a long time ago," he says with a laugh. Manning's contribution amounted to projecting simple phrases onto a white wall for one of Ono's exhibits during a retrospective. "It wasn't like we hung out and talked a lot," he says. "I was just told, 'She wants this,' And then we met at the party afterward and she said thank you."

In Manning's videos, images and film scenes— which seem to originate from practically anywhere—are overlaid on top of each other. The result is a beautifully complex sensory experience. In one piece titled Hugging Kate Jackson in Killer Bees Sunken in Red Memories, sepia-toned footage is flipped upside down on either side of serene scenes of construction and a couple walking through the woods.

"I'm always collecting film," Manning says. "I'm looking for subject matter that's intriguing…but I'm also looking at the actual aesthetic quality of it. I'm trying to create an actual dynamic form on the wall that's not just a collection of squares, but has some sort of interlocking intrigue."

When asked whether his art is trying to "say" anything, Manning answers with equivalent of a shrug. "There's a very mental way of viewing art, which is like 'Oh, this is communicating this idea,' and there may be very specific things," he says. "My art is very open-ended, and has to do with psychology in general. The only requirement to understand it is to have an open mind and let the art do what it will."

SEE IT: Memory Wave Sediments: Films and Projection Performance by Colin Manning is at NW Film Center, Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave., nwfilm.org. 7 pm Thursday, Sept. 14. $9.