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Mangan’s works evoke spirit of nature

John Mangan’s works evoke spirit of nature
The landscape portrayed through Mangan’s paintings reflects his annual, personal travels to Ireland. Here the Coomassig Mountain is represented as part of the beauty of untamed lush land, and a flowing waterfall. Photo by Rachel Camaerei

by Rachel Camaerei

If art is a lens, then the one fashioned by John Mangan captures his cultural and personal relationship to nature in both his ancestral Ireland and the rural scenery of Central Pennsylvania. Mangan does this with a profound sensitivity to the ancient spirit guides of his landscapes.

But Mangan’s artistic career almost didn’t happen. Not yet feeling the steady pull of his artist muse and doubting his creative skill, Mangan first pursued a career in print making. 

After interning with a print company, Mangan soon found out it was the “last thing I wanted to do.” 

Mangan experienced the true temperament of the work and found himself mired in a commercial atmosphere with little creativity and danger to health concerns. After a colleague was diagnosed with cancer, Mangan finished his internship and left the profession of logography behind. 

Mangan returned to school and received his Masters in Fine Arts at Penn State. Around this time, the artist planted the seed that would germinate into his art; his burgeoning love for the natural world became entwined with his artistic skills. 

He took up painting, a medium where he could express his encounters with nature rooted in his ancestral County Kerry Ireland. 

In County Kerry Ireland, the ancient, religious depictions of “the raw spirit of nature” are presented through the Green Man, a vegetative deity that represents rebirth. 

The Green Man, also called the derg corra or “the man in the tree” is depicted on churches and cathedrals all over Europe, but especially Ireland.  

In Mangan’s work, this ancient figure represents both his love for the natural world and his cultural inheritance.

 “In my imagery, he connects me to my Irish ancestors and the life they led connected to the soil and their animals,” Mangan said. 

Mangan frequently travels to Ireland, and could not help but notice the stark contrast between the lush, Ireland countryside and the concrete jungle that was his hometown in the Bronx. 

“It [the green man] is a symbol of wildness in nature and our place and connection in it,” Mangan said. 

Being first generation Irish, Mangan says he was intrigued by the close ties he shares with the Green Man embodiment of the natural world. But the Green Man is not Mangan’s only depiction of Ireland’s ancient spiritual heritage.  

Mangan also captures the Coomassig Mountain of Ireland in his artwork. The Coomassig Mountain is a local Kerry County name for a mountain on the popular hiking trail the Kerry Ring.

But Mangan also paints the black bear, which is no stranger to Central Pennsylvania. This creature invokes the “pure, savage beauty” that he feels within, portrayed in his work. 

The artist works in acrylics, done completely on reused and recyclable canvas.

Mangan’s work is currently displayed in Nola’s Joint and the ION Gallery in Downtown State College.

 “It is a wonderful resource for the town,” he said. “I hope the community will embrace it.” 

With little representation for artists here, the love and support from others is what Mangan sees as the benefit to artists from having these local places. 

Jody Harrington, owner of the ION Gallery, said Mangan simply “lives, breathes, and eats art.” He added that Mangan is a people’s artist, and will continue his work regardless of the notoriety and fame many of the other artists he’s met seek. 

Harrington has known and been friends with Mangan for over 20 years, and he confessed Mangan provided “the gateway for me to start art.” 

Harrington also stated that Mangan’s positive attitude towards life make him an extraordinary person to work with. 

“This is John Mangan’s life, and we are lucky to view it on his canvas,” said Harrington.

The artist himself is humble about his work and instead sees himself as the lucky one.

“We should look at the blessings we see every day, the beauty of Pennsylvania and maintain an attitude of gratitude,” Mangan said.

Mangan has an upcoming show at the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County from April 1 through 29. The museum is open Friday to Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

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