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Monday, January 26, 2015

Joe Mangrum

Union Square, Joe Mangrum, one day in 2010
A whole new meaning to "handmade" art.
Sometime, several thousand years ago, there developed the theory that art should be permanent. I'm tempted to blame that on the Egyptians who seemed to think everything (even life itself) should be permanent. However, in contemplating the whole phenomena, I'm thinking it likely goes back much farther than that, to some creative cave dweller daubing colored mud and black ashes around with a dead animal tail on the stone walls of his humble abode. Whatever the case, the concept stuck. Moreover, to the delight of present day archaeologist and art history aficionados, artists and scientist have since gone to great lengths to ensure this element of art permanence is...well...permanent. Any misconception that is thousands of years old is quite difficult to correct. Art, in effect, causes time to stand still. As an artist pours hundreds of hours into a painting or sculpture, he or she freezes that time in the form of an archival creative statement. Well, not all artists. Not Joe Mangrum.

Joe Mangrum's temporary art.

Joe Mangrum
I suppose there are probably other art media that are less permanent than Joe Mangrum's sidewalk sand paintings, I just can't think of any at the moment. Sand painting is not the only type of art Joe Mangrum does (he creates large scale sculptures as well), and he's not the only artist creating sand paintings. Tibetan monks make a fetish of their art being temporary. The Navajo use it to heal the sick. Meanwhile others bottle their images in striving for permanence. Permanent or temporary, Mangrum IS one of the best at what he does. And, thanks to photography, as you can see above, his work does have a degree of permanence. Although he employs many hours in creating his sidewalk decorations, he's not the least bit sad to see the rain, wind, or human footprints eventually destroy them.

Expand-reflect-exist, 2009, Joe Mangrum, All Points West Festival
Not all of Mangrum's art involves
geometric abstraction
Joe Mangrum is no simple itinerant street artist with a tin cup to facilitate tips. Though he now lives and works in New York City, Joe was born near St. Louis in 1969. He's started painting lessons when he was eight and by the time he was sixteen his art had won him a trip to India, where he first picked up his interest in sand painting. The trip also sparked an interest in travel and multi-cultural art. In returning, Mangrum enrolled in Chicago's AIC School of Art where he received his BFA in 1991, majoring in painting and photography (a good combination for a would-be sand artist). Since then he estimates he's created well over six-hundred sand paintings. His large scale site-specific sculptural installations(above) have brought him almost as much fame.

Photo by Billy Sheahan
Starting with a geometric outline, surprisingly precise for a freehand drawing.
As with every work of art, it starts out small, a tiny pile of sand, which then Mangrum's talented fist sweeps outward in carefully planned arcs, swirls, lines, circles, and fills. It's not an art for those reluctant to get their hands dirty. A wisp of air, a few drops of rain, and it's all for naught. However, Mangrum is sometimes amazed at the longevity of his work, even on busy urban sidewalks. Even those who respect little else, seem to respect the great beauty of fine art.

Photo by Billy Sheahan
The shadows grow longer as the work nears completion.
Creating a medium to large-scale work of sand art is an all-day job, stopping only long enough for lunch, restroom breaks, photography, and to talk to passing strangers about his art. That may well be he part of his art he loves most. By the time the work is finished (below) it's often after sunset, with only moonlight and streetlights to illuminate his work.

Photo by Billy Sheahan
The finished work, about eight p.m.
The art of sweeping up.
Some of Mangrum's sand paintings last longer than others. Some are created indoors and thus cannot rely upon the elements to do the messy work of cleaning up (left). Check out the video below on what it's like to deliberately destroy art.

 This is just the first phase of cleanup.
Once the dust has settled, they come back and do it again.


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