Sunday, May 23, 2010

An Interview With Joe Mangrum, & Then Some

My interest of Joe Mangrum began in March. There were afternoons where I'd catch him an hour or so in, when what ever he was working on was at it's skeleton stage. Then I'd go off somewhere to meet someone or do something for awhile, and return to check out Joe's progression. It was like witnessing the blossoming of a flower, I would see the bud, then hours later the flower, and think, wow, how did that happen? 

I friended Joe on FaceBook, and would consistently see his work on the news reel, until it became evident that I should be finding out more about him. 

This interview is it's own animal in comparison to the others. For one thing I was kneeling most of the time beside Joe as he worked on the piece of that day, while holding my iPhone towards him so it could catch his voice over the wind. When he got up, I got up. When he knelled, I knelled. Yeah, it was pretty fun. Shall we?

So what do you call this? Is there a title for it?  "Sand painting. I'm an artist. I do lots of different things and mediums."

What are some of the things you work on? "I make installations, I do oil paintings, I do collage, I do sand paintings, I do permanent with some sand on a panel, I do photography, I do photographic prints of my work, ah I do."

When did you start working in parks? "Ah, I started in Union Square on August 23rd  last fall, 2009."

Cuz I see you out here all the time..... "Yeah, this is what I do for my day to day, sort of  bread and butter."

Is this how you pay the bills? "This is what I do. Um, this supplements my income so that I can work on other paintings and stuff, as opposed to being in construction, which is what I did before that. I worked in construction in a number of different jobs up until last August. Where now, I've found a balance to create art in the streets, and get enough income from that to support my other projects. I'm making art full time, all the time, in a lot of different mediums. But I've been an artist all my life."

I love that, too many people sacrifice them-selves, for them-selves...When did you get the idea to work with sand? "Ahh Well, I've done temporary works in public for a long time. I went to art school at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and ah, after I graduated I took off traveling for many years. And I couldn't really paint while I was on the road, and to lug all the canvases with me wasn't practical. So, I started doing temporary works out in nature using flowers, and seeds, and berries, and what-not, and photographing it. And it lead to using all different types of materials -- Cutting up cars, computers, ah creating relationships and dialogue between different objects. So after so many years of that I was using sand, like beach sand as part of that.....I was out living at San Francisco at the time, and I started this work out in Southern California, at Laguna Beach, and it eventually just, ya know, you start exploring different things, different ideas. And I was doing a lot of large scale installations up to 60ft. in diameter and 40ft. tall. Which is all pretty simple when you've got access to a huge number of friends with large scale equipment, space, and all that.

But I decided that I was gonna move to New York, and all those resources sort of disappeared. Ya know? When I moved to New York, I was like: What can I do to make art? I started using colored sand back in 2006, and I brought it out in a suit case, and tried it out, and shoou (This was a sound he made.) it worked.

Now, I'm also exploring painting and going back to the canvas, and panel painting to create objects for people to collect, and express painting in a different way."

Can you tell me if you're winging this? "Yeah, pretty much, you know, the painting will start to tell me what it wants after awhile. And certain shapes leave voids, so you wanna fill in the in-betweens. And ah, the color combinations and everything kind of ah, it just starts talking to you like a painting would, just like oil painting or anything else, but using sand, which is a temporary medium."

Do people contact you? Can they buy your art? "Yeah, absolutely, it's just, and my sand paintings are archived on facebook, more so than my website because I post while I'm working.
And I've done plenty of events over the years. I've done commissions for large scale festivals like, All Points West, lots of different stuff like that, as well as private events, weddings, parties, that sort of thing."

Okay, this is a little un-related, but I have to ask.....Did you have a themed wedding?  "Yeah we did, we were planning to move to New York so before we left San Francisco we decided to throw a big party and have our friends and everything, and ah, a true San Francisco style wedding. Um, we did it at the Palace of Fine Arts, and we had everyone come as their favorite artist or a piece of art.

Who was your artist? "Well, I made up my costume. It was a combination between the Mad-Hatter, George Clinton, and Willie Wonka. And then my wife made her own dress which was inspired by art nouveau."

Okay, I've asked my questions. Is there anything you would like to include? "Um, well, I just think this symbol is very important for people to relate to, and engage with. I make these inside an urban grid, and this is like ah sort of organic mandala-like shape, if you will. Um, I don't really like to use the term mandala because it puts -- See the thing is the urban grid, it puts us in a state of psychology where we compartmentalize everything, where everything has it's own little convenient box. And when you use the word mandala, it's actually a Sanskrit word, so people associate it with Eastern philosophy as opposed to relating to it on a Western side. So, I don't like to use the word mandala necessarily, but it accurately describes what I do.
And, in terms of the urban grid, it's like the world is dividing by minutes and seconds by the Gregorian calendar. And those equate distances, and so it puts us in a state where we're out of balance with nature. And it puts us in a psychological division opposed to unity. So, that's why I explore this symbol."

Then a fellow with a small white dog joined us. 

Mr. White Dog: "Is that your design?"

Joe: "Yes."

Mr. White Dog: "What prompted you to choose that if I may ask?"

Joe: "Ah, it's all just made up as I go. It's my imagination just getting poured out onto the sidewalk."

Mr. White Dog: "I'm not making a judgement at that. That's one way or the other. Do you understand anything about the meaning of that? I'm a painter, and a student of psychology."

Joe: "What do you see in it?"

Mr White Dog: "I'm just talking about the purely intrinsic qualities of design."

Joe: "Em-huh. That's like we're peeling an onion of metaphors, so where would you like to start?" (Laughter)

Mr. White Dog: "We can start with the fact that it's non-figurative, it's not an object."

Joe: "It's leaf like, and it's.."

Mr. White Dog: "Suggestive."

Joe: "Suggestive."

Mr. White Dog: "Um that it's symmetrical, the symmetry is basically four-sided."

Joe: "E-huh."

Mr. White Dog: "Um in one way, from a psychological view, I don't wanna shock you with this, but it would be considered symmetrically the kind of design somebody who is schizophrenic would come up with."

Me: "Really?" (Joe laughed.)

Joe: "That's funny."

Mr. White Dog: "Why is that so?"

Joe: "Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schizophrenic, and so am I."

Me: "That's funny!"

I had to stop recording because Mr. White Dog was very intent with attempting to convince Joe that he was schizophrenic… Apologies for the interruption.

Dear Joe is humble because when I took a closer look at him online I learned that while Joe lived in San Francisco the L.A. Times wrote about his public artwork a number of times, that he has permanent work at the bus stops at 22nd Street and Mission in San Fran, and that he was honored by the Lorenzo de Medici Award at the Florence Biennale in 2003.

So, if you're looking for something that will circulate positive energy visit Joe's website. The link is above.

Lastly, when you spot Joe drop some cash in his suit case. He is a gem of New York City.

1 comment:

  1. We miss Joe's presence in S.F. and L.A. We're so glad N.Y. has embraced him.