Painting with sand is an evocative art that has been practiced by Australian aborigines to South Indian women who make them as part of local festivals. In particular, Tibetan Buddhist monks are masters of this colourful art, creating breathtaking circular sand mandalas that are ultimately brushed into a river, to symbolize the impermanence of all things.
Synthesizing elements of traditional sand painting in his work, New York City-based sculptor and artist Joe Mangrum uses not only coloured sand in his large-scale, freeform sand paintings, but also flowers, wheatgrass, food and other found objects like computer parts.
Spanning up to 20 feet in diameter, Mangrum has created over 650 pieces that have been seen in both galleries and in public places like NYC's Union Square and beyond. Mangrum, who began sand painting in 2006, can spend hours on each piece, distributing each sandy line of colour by the handful. No two works are the same, but all are inspired by natural forms and fractal geometries.
Mangrum characterizes his work as “visual rebellion” against “the urban grid;” and there is certainly a recurring theme of nature vs. urban, living vs. manmade in his work, and ultimately reconnection, as the artist says in his bio:
It’s my philosophy that we are all unknowingly and psychologically programed by this system, a dominating force that efficiently partitions the globe into quantifiable sections of space and time, divided by minutes and seconds. It is ultimately out of sync with the natural world, seasonal cycles and lunar tides. The result is a society divided from nature and compartmentalized into definable groups, disconnected physically, and spiritually from the whole. I work to reclaim these divisions by creating sand paintings, in organic shapes, interconnecting the fragments and acting as a catalyst for a synthesis, again. For me this is a vital process of affirming life.
Much like the Tibetan monks, Mangrum approaches sand painting as a spiritual practice and political statement, seeing the macrocosmic in the microcosmic grains of sand:
Each grain really represents a being or living thing, you know? Metaphorically, then you've got billions of living things and they're all working together to create something beautiful. (PBS, Chicago Tonight WTTW)
Vibrant, ephemeral and breaking the gray monotony of city pavement, Joe Mangrum's sand art generates a multitude of visual glyphs that reconnect viewers to a greater sense of wholeness and ever-present beauty. More over at This Is Colossal and Joe Mangrum's site and Facebook (the quickest way to see new works).