Peter Mangan: Figures in an Exhibition

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Peter Mangan Figures in an Exhibition

“Passing Through”

By Tracy Poe

In 1989, artist Peter Mangan groped through the wreckage of the San Francisco earthquake, his home at the time, salvaging rebar to make “Freeway Rider,” an enigmatic human figure crafted of glass and steel that meditates on the balance between strength and fragility.

“The human body has been used since the beginning of time to express an artists’ individual take on life. We are all human. We are all looking out at the world through the same frame,” Mangan explains. “I thought, how can I portray the figure in an original way? Start with something different; not a square or a rectangle, like most frames. Something that would make people stop and say, ‘Wow, I have never seen anything like that before?’ What if I started with the silhouette of a person as the frame?”

The result of that inspiration is the series “Figures,” on exhibit now at the Sculpture Ranch and Galleries in Johnson City, Texas. The exhibit features “Freeway Rider” alongside a body of work now 27 years in the making. Some of the pieces in the exhibit have been shown at the Jung Center in Houston and the Bee Cave Sculpture Park in Bee Cave, Texas, among other places. Mangan has had a long and successful career in galleries and public art projects. But this show also offers several new works never before seen by the public.

Peter Mangan Figures in an Exhibition

“Gemini Song”

In the 1990s, Mangan was a prosperous, self-supporting artist, using glass and metals to make chandeliers and other forms of functional art that were popular in restaurants, public spaces and private homes across the country. But then in 1998 he and his wife Karen decided to return to Texas, where he had received his Bachelor of Fine Arts at The University of Texas at Austin. They bought a small ranch in Blanco, which provided yet another inspiration. “The beauty of the natural landscape here made me want to re-address the ideas that interested me as a sculptor and painter. I wanted to create Fine Art that interacted with its natural surroundings, objects that were interesting in different light conditions and different seasons.”

So after a period sculpting things he saw in Nature—“Birds, plants, things that were very different from what I had been doing when I was working in an urban environment”—he returned to the human figure. Like prehistoric art, some of the figures are clearly male or female. But most of them are neutral. They are not racially specific. They don’t have faces or distinguishing features such as arms or legs. There’s a reason for that. Someone once asked the artist whether his figures should be seen as coming towards you, or walking away. He said, “I liked that ambiguity,”

Mangan says, “I don’t really do purely Conceptual Art. I don’t come up with an idea and then expect the viewer to figure out what the artwork means. I often create work and then decide what it means later. Or maybe I never do,” he laughs.

Peter Mangan Figures in an Exhibition

“Warm Woman”

Which raises another question: are Mangan’s figures looking out at Nature—the birds, the animals, the trees, the insects—or is Nature looking back at them? It’s both, he says. The important thing is for his audience to see themselves in the work. “Their sense of humor, their memories, their abstract feelings, all reflected in the steel silhouette and the pieces of glass waving in the wind.”

Which is what makes the Sculpture Ranch and Galleries an ideal setting for his work. “It’s very different from looking at a piece against a white wall, or in an urban space where every square foot has something crowded into it.” On the Ranch’s trails, the sculpture acts as a focal point in a vast, dramatic Texas landscape. “What the Sculpture Ranch does for me,” Mangan says, “is it provides a lot of spaces where the art acts as a kind of exclamation point, bringing your focus in and pointing out a feature of the land, whether it’s a beautiful oak tree or the swell of a hill”. One of the most striking pieces in the exhibit, Blue Femme, was recently re-worked in blue glass. Its position at the Sculpture Ranch, framed by a small lake, draws the eye to the color of the water and the sky.

But Mangan also appreciates the Galleries, housed in an 11,000-square-foot aircraft hangar. The new Blue Gallery, recently repainted in homage to Texas Bluebonnets, allows him to show his smaller pieces in a more intimate setting. “It’s unique. Artists don’t get that a lot, the ability to display their work indoors and outdoors at the same time.”

What does Peter Mangan hope visitors will take away from their experience at the Sculpture Ranch and Galleries? Well, the art, for one. All the pieces are for sale, except “Freeway Rider,” which, understandably, is part of the artist’s private collection. But mostly, he says, he hopes people will see an artist addressing a single question—what it means to be human—over a long period of time, the answer changing with the light, and the seasons.

Peter Mangan Figures in an Exhibition

“She Comes In Colors”