Temporal and Transient: Interview with Stephen Mangum

Stephen Mangum is a representational painter born in 1954 in Mississippi and currently living and working in San Francisco, California. His paintings vary among figurative, portrait and still life formats to document contemporary life in an expressive realism style. Group exhibitions include “Luminous” national juried competition at the ARC Gallery in San Francisco (Jurors Choice Award); the 2017 National Juried Exhibition at the New Orleans Institute of Fine Arts (Past-President’s Merit Award); "Portrayal(l)" and “Choose Where You Sit” at the Diego Rivera Gallery in San Francisco; the 2016 Left Coast Annual juried competition at Sanchez Art Center in Pacifica, California; the 3rd Annual Juried Show at the Piedmont Center for the Arts in Piedmont, California; and the 2015 “Art of the Heartland” competition sponsored by the Southwest Artists Association. His work has been published in the Circle Quarterly Art Review, Artist Portfolio Magazine, Studio Visit Magazine, and International Contemporary Artists. A graduate of the San Francisco Art Institute, his paintings are in private collections throughout the US. 


Our lives are simply the pursuit of internal fantasies, complicated by the external realities we confront, as we pass through this plane of existence. My paintings are representations of the complex texture of human life, temporal and transient, using realism constructed with an expressive visual language that reflects my interpretations of our being, contemporary phrases in the verse of life. Through impressions of our world that speak both to us and about us, my work documents our existence and brings visibility to our shared passage. Obsessed with relevance, I imagine I explore humanity to find meaning in my own life.


Tell about your interest in portraiture and figure painting. How has your practice developed over the years?  

I am obsessed with relevance, and look to portraiture to find meaning and purpose.  I have painted other formats, but find portraiture as the best vehicle for me to make and share observations about life.  In portraits, I focus less on likeness as more on liveliness and spirit.  


Who are the figures in your work? Tell us about how you choose the subject of each piece and a few key factors for these decisions.

My subjects are usually random people I encounter by chance.  I look for common, everyday people and then seek to capture the beauty and strength in their character. 

What do you hope to communicate to the viewer through your paintings?

In my portrait and figurative work, I hope to communicate that what makes life extraordinary is ordinary people.  We are all heroes of some sort.


Describe a typical day. How do you balance studio time and other responsibilities?

I get my physical exercise and other responsibilities taken care of first thing each day, so I can be focus on my work without distraction when I get to the studio mid-morning.  I find that I can stay focused for five to six hours before I get frazzled.  After cleaning my brushes, i take photos of my work before I leave the studio. When I get home, though,  I study the photos of my day’s work, looking for corrections to make and also to start planning my work for the next day. I seem to be always thinking about my current work.  

What inspires you when you are not making art?  

When I am fortunate enough to experience a performance of outstanding musicians, it makes me want to work harder in the studio. Excellence begets excellence, whatever the art form. 


Is scale an important element in your work?

I believe anything is more powerful when painted larger than life.  I am totally in awe of painters who make small works which convey a vast amount of information, but I prefer working with large brushes on huge canvases.

Name a few influences and artists that informed your paintings.

 I look at John Singer Sargent constantly.  I really love the economy of his mark-making.  I also look to the discipline of later Lucien Freud and the courage of Paul Cezanne as I approach my work.