Sunday, May 16, 2010

Joe Mangrum vs. The Veggie Pride Parade

Today I decided to go to Union Square Park which I resisted coming to yesterday. I am sitting beside Joe Mangrum, as he works. Right now he looks over his work deciding where to go with it. He picks up a large Ziploc full of orange sand and gets down on his padded knees to apply it. The wind is kicking up around me and the people are everywhere. One artist sets up for the day, as the early birds are already well into their day. The time is about 12:30, the sun is beating down and I am caught up in the experience.

Out on the road cabbies block each other out and create dissonant symphonies of honking like angry geese. Joe is working so I leave him alone left to wonder where I fit into all of this. Today in order to exercise my writer’s art I’ve latched onto another artist, one I recognize as already deep in his flow, experiencing mystery.

As people come to see the dance of sand, color, and concrete I see the fascination in their eyes. This is magic in everyday life and many of us are able to see it, vividly. Still reeling from yesterday when a dam broke open from inside me causing energy pour out. I can’t stop it even if I was foolhardy enough to try.

Joe’s look captures a cross between concentration, and the dance with the muse. He wears a brimmed straw hat that protects him from the sun. His arms are darkened from all the time spends being fed by the sun, his art, and the people.

On his back is Mickey Mouse shirt with Mickey in football regalia circa the 1920’s, charging forward with with a stiff-arm, and a smile. I contemplate the rampant consumerism I've grown to identify with Mickey Mouse. As a child Mickey Mouse brought me pure joy, and magic. Now as I've seen how corporations can be corrupted I no longer can look at Mickey Mouse with the same innocence and wonder. Even the term Mickey Mouse has come to mean small and inconsequential, in the usage of expressions like “Don’t give me none of that Mickey Mouse stuff.”

Meanwhile, Joe takes out the maroon sand, the deep color the Tibetans are so fond of. He stops to introduce himself, mentioning his portfolio, art book, and mailing list. He is a professional artist who accepts donations which enable him to travel around NYC and share his work. He began this piece around 11:30 AM and will be at it all day, and into nightfall. The diameter right now is 3-4 feet and the sand painting will grow to 15-20 feet in diameter.

A homeless man just walked past me whom I remember well. I used to say hi to him, but grew tired of always being asked for money. I gave him some money but the act drove me away. That and the fact he never seemed to remember me from visit to visit. It is very common for the people that I meet on the street not to remember from visit to visit.

Now there are five children sitting on the floor around Joe. He continues working on his act of creation, or as Buckminster Fuller would prefer, his act of invention. He circles around getting the kids to give way a little. The crowds increase and I lose my view, only to have it return like the game played between clouds and the sun.

Joe tells the people surrounding him that he is on Facebook and Twitter, that he is available to answer questions, and they can come back as it grows, and becomes more detailed. A woman asks if she can photograph his work, and he says he would appreciate a donation. She freezes as her camera dangles from her neck strap.

Now we move to green and a man with a camera advises that The Veggie Pride Parade is about to come right through here. Joe says “No it’s not.” and flashes his smile. At this point we are surrounded. A woman allows her scarf to lightly brush the newly created maroon lines. A baby carriage comes awfully close.

Joe exclaims, “Carrot Power.”, and wakes the very baby that moments ago the onlooking mom told me not to wake. Joe looks at the newly woken baby and smiles saying, “You like carrots don’t you?”

A woman dressed as a cow walks by. Joe asks the Veggie paraders to drop a dollar in his bag as they go. Here comes the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary banners and I think of my creative cohort Norm Robot who did video work for them. A young girl gives me a flyer for the Catskill Animal Sanctuary in Saugerties. A man with an anarchist’s bandanna covering his face hangs with the pack, and I wonder if he is in costume, or if he really needs to hide his identity.

A woman with a torch and a fruit basket crown takes photographs. Another cow, this one with googly eyes stands by the sand painting to be photographed. Kids play right beside me, and mama tells her son whose name sounds like Matisse that he has only a minute left before they go play.

Joe applies the deep cerulean blue over the sky-blue, highlighting both sides. Matisse who only had a minute whines to his mom that he wants to go. I begin to wonder how many people have stepped all over Joe’s work. And decide when I actually talk to him I will ask.

The crowds have left and I hear the veggie people congregated out in the distance. They seem a bit excited, but it is not entirely convincing. The rush hour has left, as the parade settles down. I take a moment to appreciate the clouds, taking them in. I notice how important it is to Joe’s work to block out his space.

Joe asks me what I’m writing and I tell him a little bit of this-pointing to his work, and a little bit of that-pointing to everything else. I remind him that we already met. He says it is hard for him to get to know new people. I remark this is why I give him space. Inside I acknowledge to myself, “I know exactly what you mean.”

He tells me about what he calls the Zombie Hour when after work people on their commute home, so caught up in their cell phones, and texting will walk right into his work. He makes a crazy face to demonstrate to me how oblivious people can be. He says a step won’t do much damage, but a shuffle can really cause mayhem. He also recounts how it is better to just let them keep going once they have entered the piece because in a state of panic they only mess it up more. There is a metaphor here but I am not going to head there.

I told him that yesterday I wrote indoors, and today I am doing it out here. I tell him that I saw his tweet and came out to soak up some of his artistic energy to fuse with my thoughts.

Our conversation ends and I go back to my notebook. I got the idea to write in public from reading the work of Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg where they suggest leaving the house, going into cafes, beaches, parks, and wherever else. The textures of thought change as the spaces the writer inhabits change as well. I am here testing out their theories.

The orange is now taking its place bordering both sides of the maroon, as I notice a maroon sweatshirt in the crowd with patterns not so different than Joe’s work. I wonder if this person even notices the connection. Earlier Joe commented that he really likes this one, and I agree. I wonder if I could even tell the difference between his best work, and a run of the mill offering.

Now he covers the green with the sky blue, and circles the work completing the rotation. In my head the song Disco Ball, Spin Around, Spin Around from Saucy Monky plays. An old man says with amazement to his companions, “It’s so perfectly symmetrical.” A young man oblivious is halted seconds before he slams headlong into one of the edges of the work. Luckily Joe is standing right there and is able to stop him. He flashes his patented smile, and I think how patient you must have to be to work with sand.

I stand up and say, “I’ll catch you later Joe.”

Joe smiles and replies, “I heard that before. It’s just that people snap a picture, and then they’re gone.” He is referring to the part of his introduction he just ran through where he says he would appreciate a donation if you take a picture. Caught up in the moment I don’t realize until later this is his office and he needs financial support in order to keep volunteering to come to work everyday.

I am home now and will go back later after I post this piece because not only do I want to see the work further along but also because I owe this hard-working Joe a couple of bucks.

Wikipedia Entry: Joe Mangrum

Video from Ovation TV: SandmanNYC

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