Billy Ray Mangham
4 piece(s) in the gallery
Texan Billy Ray Mangham’s raku clay art, with its irreverent style, makes him stand out amongst contemporary clay artists and offers a fun perspective we gladly exhibit at Palette.
With titles like ‘Elvis Truck’, which actually plays Elvis' "Love Me Tender", and ‘Music City Truck’, a viewer can see that much of Billy Ray’s inspiration comes from southern rock and roll, rooted in Nashville and Memphis. While these places are considered the home of country music, rock and roll and blues has an even more prolific presence in Music City’s history. As a teenager, Mangham played rhythm and blues on the bass guitar, beginning his life long immersion in southern culture.
Mangham was first interested in sculpture as an art student and then introduced to clay, and the raku process he is known for, while attending San Jose State University. Raku is a Japanese pottery technique from the 16th century. What makes the raku process different from other clay firing processes is the amount of time pieces spend in the kiln, as well as the ‘post firing reduction phase’. The raku process begins when the glazed pottery is placed in a pre-heated kiln and fired for 15-20 minutes, a much shorter time than 8-24 hour firings for other clay processes. Instead of allowing the piece to cool once it is removed from the kiln, it is quickly put into an air tight container with combustible material such as sawdust. This is called a ‘post firing reduction phase’, where the combustible material smokes and the carbonaceous atmosphere removes oxygen from the stoneware and affects the glazed surface, creating the crackled surface texture and metallic quality of colors.
While Mangham initially made functional pottery in earth tones he wanted to incorporate vibrant colors into his art. The quick firing Americanized version of raku process enabled a new aesthetic and content for Mangham. He created ‘toys’, like little devils, bunnies holding cigars, and magic ape trucks. Even though Mangham’s pieces are playful on the exterior, he has honed his craft for over 30 years, continually captivated by clay in an esoteric and thoughtful way. As Mangham says “I am continually seeking answers to why I have chosen this path. I am working with two now. First clay enables me to focus, concentrate, and pay attention. Paying attention, and being in the present makes me truly alive. The second reason I have chosen this path with clay is that it connects me to the memory and history of our species.” As Mangham suggests, we can learn about other cultures and past civilizations by viewing their artifacts, namely artifacts made from clay. From his kitschy art pieces, we can see a part of Mangham’s interests and more generally, how pop culture informs our society’s consciousness.
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