Art escapes: Goddesses of action moving into your space

Robert Mango has been a working artist in Tribeca since the 70s. When he arrived it wasn’t yet called Tribeca; he set to transforming a bread and egg factory on Duane Street into a studio and home, the wooden floors still stained yellow from all the yolk. I was lucky enough to get a tour of this studio yesterday as he walked me through a body of work even more impressive than his transformed gallery, exposed brick walls lined with art. His work began as sculpture and painting that coalesced into a new kind of mixed media; a constructed layering of materials and color that projects three dimensionally, but is still contained on all four sides within a frame.

Working with the female form as his muse, Mango’s most recent series presents women as powerful forces of feeling, with limbs twisting and swirling inside and on top of the border’s edges. Instead of being simplified, these women are glorified, celebrated, and admired – each one embodying an entire sensibility. Their arms and legs curve into distinct postures that transform each piece into the goddess of her action:

“Drumming Her Fingers,” 2012
Oil on canvas over sculpted foam.
Artist statement>>


A swirling body painted in matching swirls of orange, she sits on bronze stool with her ankles daintily crossed, leg joined with a hip that spirals up into the two small circles of her chest. Her body keeps twisting up into arms and a bronze head – her right arm disjointed and dropping down into fingers that tap restlessly on her leg. The attention on this arm leaves the whole rest of her body stacked on the right side, her abstracted torso looks like the face of a frowning man – left leg propped up to become his chin and cheek. She’s poised but waiting, with some impatience but with more grace.

“Blue Dance,” oil on canvas over sculpted foam.
Artist statement>>

Her figure spirals out on a grey-orange-purple background that looks worn compared to her bright blue and white. These orange and purple shapes are sketched out in rough black outline, and her figure literally floats off its surface, crafted puzzle pieces of sculpted foam that float together, two legs that cross and a single arm that encircles her head above. Looking up, her hair glides down and springs up to create a space for the hand coming towards it, which creates a sort of compositional symmetry that matches her criss-crossed legs. Her form dances, embracing itself and the space it occupies, a space that becomes yours physically with her figure projecting inches from the background.

“No Room for Doubt,” oil on canvas over sculpted foam.
Artist statement>>


She is absolutely absorbed in emotion, all her limbs motioning in the same direction as the kiss she’s blowing. The whole work is shiny, blue and green loops of metallic make up a background that leaves spaces for the wall behind to come through. Her hair is blown back into little casual curls in a bright shade of metallic blonde. The left shoulder looks like a cave shaped for her heart, a little spiral that projects itself forward like a megaphone disguised as her Adam’s apple. It calls out just like her kiss does, her toes curled with a hint of tense desire.

“Girl with Trumpet,” 2012
Image courtesy of the artist.

Here the sculpted foam is photographed against a white background, but of course photography can’t do much for sculpted foam. In person, her figure physically comes toward you, grabbing bits and pieces of the abstract background behind her and becoming a kind of golden goddess, bent over like she’s in the middle of modern dance rehearsal. Her gold-plated head and hair in profile bring out the frame that’s overlaid with the abstract shapes that become the trumpet part of the piece. She’s powerful, with a warm, sexy forcefulness – emboldened by the dynamic background and confident in the fact that you’re looking even though she isn’t. 

These women work as goddesses of action, fully involving their environment by revealing the wall behind them and by physically coming into your space; relief sculptures of carefully shaped and colored foam that melt in the most organic way, merging into legs and arms and hearts that become a single, powerful action.

See more of Robert Mango’s work on his website here.