Broad Brush Strokes
A new chapter for prolific painter William Mangum
By Waynette Goodson
The great F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second chapters in American lives.” But that’s not the case in the life of one proud North Carolinian — William Mangum.
After spending four decades mastering the art of watercolors and painting realistic landscapes, particularly of his home state, Mangum recently put down his tiny brush, capturing the twigs on the trees, and picked up a cup to pour — yes, pour — bright acrylic paint over large canvases in a sweeping contemporary style.
It would be as if Bob Timberlake woke up one day and decided to paint like Georgia O’Keeffe.
With 3,000 paintings under his palette, exhibited everywhere from the New Realists Show in Chicago to the International Exhibition in London, Mangum is an accomplished artist. So why would he make such a dramatic change?
Simple . . . a challenge.
In 2013, Mangum partnered with Klaussner Home Furnishings to create Carolina Preserves — An Artist’s Inspired Home Collection. Four distinct groups, Blue Ridge, Sea Breeze, Southern Pines and Riverbanks, celebrate the state’s diverse seasons and topography — and they’re right in the artist’s wheelhouse.
Then, a new furniture trend emerged: midcentury modern. And for the fifth collection, Klaussner debuted Simply Urban in October 2016.
“It was time to take the country boy to the city,” Mangum recalls. “To celebrate urban topography and to get me out of my comfort zone. To be honest with you . . . it was not a comfortable transition.”
To top it off, he didn’t have much time. The conversations about the new collection started in October 2015, and at the end of the holiday season, Mangum “began to tack,” with just a year until the launch.
So he got into the studio every day — he typically paints every morning for five to six hours — and taught himself the new style. “After six months, I went through many failures,” Mangum admits. “There were many sleepless nights.”
The intrepid artist compares the new approach to a roller coaster ride. “It’s definitely full of surprises,” he says. “This is not as controlled of a technique . . . some pieces are heavily textured,” he says. Painting with acrylic involves using a pallet knife, scraping and layering. “It’s like being a cook and mixing all these ingredients that you apply to give you different flavors. And you don’t know the end result until you come back the next day, and it’s cooked overnight. The paint changes and you get some pleasant surprises.”
Klaussner was pleasantly surprised with the results: “Bill’s artwork and inspiration have been the catalyst for four of our most popular home collections,” according to Geoff Beaston, Klaussner’s senior vice president of case goods. “His ability to capture nature with its distinct textures and diverse palette of colors has been the basis for storied collections from the mountains to the coast.” That was the old Bill, before acrylics. “With his newest collection, Bill has taken an exciting turn as he celebrates urban living. The result is an exceptional collection that is simultaneously modern and classic,” Beaston says.
Some pieces such as Coral Reef have as many as 30 layers that can take a week or two to dry. In another, Awakening, which resembles a bright blue flower, Mangum took cups of paint and raked them across the canvas. Other substrates include wood and even masonite.
When compared to his first love, watercolors, other major differences include not having to frame the contemporary works, and well, just knowing when to stop. When painting a tree, it’s pretty obvious when it’s finished, but that’s not the case with abstract art. “It’s intuitive,” Mangum says. “It’s hard to walk away. But you sense it’s at an ending.”
After a year of trial and error, he was able to present 54 original works last May at his gallery on Lawndale Drive, which underwent a redesign to stage the new paintings with their coordinating Simply Urban furnishings. Now, it looks as if the cast of Mad Men could make their entrance at any moment.
“The newest originals show broad, masterful handling of a variety of mediums and techniques,” says Joy Ross, Mangum’s gallery director. “From traditional watercolor, to transitional acrylics and contemporary works featuring everything from brush and pallet knife to poured paintings, this is a bold body of work. For those that feel they know his work, this collection is bound to be a bit of a surprise.”
In fact, that was Mangum’s No. 1 fear: acceptance. Would his 20,000 buyers and the thousands who come to his annual Open House connect with his contemporary art?
“Or would people believe it’s just frivolous?” he asked.
So far, many of his collectors have invested in the new pieces, which have also found homes in corporate offices. In addition, Leftbank Art is interested in the new collection. “They like that it’s a portfolio and not a single piece — not just one vase of tulips,” Mangum says.
Just as a classically trained ballerina easily transitions to modern dance, he has mastered the basic competencies to allow him to sidestep so nimbly.
But the humble artist puts it in plainer terms.
“I’ve been driving a Jeep for 25 years,” Mangum explains. “The new Jeep I have is not a Jeep; it’s a Lexus. It’s got more dingbats and whistles and hot and cool seats, but within that, the core is still there; only the icing on the cake is different.”
Ross continues: “The reason it works so well is that he has a long career, and he understands balance and composition and color, and that translates to the new medium . . . I want people to know that this is a sincere body of work. Bill puts his heart into every piece.”
That heart, that emotion and energy, shine through in the hopefulness of the bright blue Blossom, the tension in the black-and-white Storm, and the romance of the indigo Starry Nights.
For those who still yearn for his original watercolor and landscape techniques, no worries; Mangum will continue to paint both. “I still love my watercolors,” he assures. “That just feels like breathing. That’s like riding a bicycle.”
At the October High Point Market, Klaussner will debut the sixth edition of the Artist Inspired Home Collection, but Mangum isn’t giving any hints. “It’s done,” he says. “It’s very cool; it may be the best yet.”
While the next collection is done — Mangum is not. An accomplished author, publisher, gallery owner, keynote speaker, golfer and philanthropist, the 64-year-old is showing no signs of putting away the paint.
Sporting impeccable penny loafers, sharp navy slacks and a classic gingham Oxford the same color as his blue eyes, Mangum appears perplexed at the thoughts of what he might do next. “Why should I retire?” he asks. “It’s going pretty well. I guess the day I come in and there’s no one here and nothing to sign, maybe I’ll go home.”
We predict he’ll need more pens: this second chapter could be a long one. OH
Waynette Goodson is the editor of Casual Living magazine.
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While the interior of William Mangum Gallery has changed, one thing has not: you’ll still find the artist helping customers most every afternoon. He particularly enjoys sharing insights into the inspiration, locales and techniques employed in his paintings. “There are few true art galleries these days, and an artist-owned gallery is an even rarer commodity,” says Joy Ross, gallery director. “Nothing compares to having the chance to spend time with the artist and learn about his artwork.” Comfortable and inviting, the gallery features original works of art, furniture, prints and gift items — all curated by Mangum. Don’t be surprised if he asks if he can gift-wrap your purchase or carry it to your car. That’s just the essence of this affable artist who’s excited to share his new works. Info: williammangum.com