Richard P. Mansfield grew up in the northwest United States as a pastor’s kid. His father was a nondenominational pastor and his mother taught Sunday school and played the church piano in small towns through out Washington and Oregon. Attending Central Washington University for his undergraduate work, his first interest as a major was political science, the second sociology, and then he found sculpture. Nothing compared. In 2004 he received an MFA in sculpture from California State University, Fullerton. His work deals with political ideology, religious philosophies, the history of sculptural materials, and the implication of midcentury aesthetics. Mansfield is an artist and educator living and working in Austin, Texas.
Gracelee Lawrence: Your work is rife with conflicts and dichotomies that can produce a certain level of shock and perhaps even indignation in your viewers. Talk about your relationship to insult, indignity, and shock value.
Richard Mansfield: Fundamentally I want to make work that speaks to my trepidations, be it towards the hypocrisies of American society, imperialism, or the corporate take over of our democracy. The use of humor and shock are methods to pull the viewer in. I believe that the majority of viewers understand roughly what the work is about and the few that don’t may find it insulting or offensive, which is fine.
GL: The materials and finishes in your work have a seductiveness that draws the viewer in as the subject matter bites. Why do you use bronze and make attractive surfaces?
RM: The longevity of bronze appeals to me and I love using it because the process gives me the most flexibility. By making molds and casting the work in wax, it then gives me endless possibilities. While working in wax I can manipulate and make multiples, and once I’ve created what I want it is then cast into bronze. I painstakingly paint the sculptures to withhold that historical weight of bronze. This directs the viewer more towards the images and narratives I’m depicting.
GL: Religious imagery also seems to be a recurring theme. How much of your work is dealing with personal experiences versus commentary on cultural dogmas? In that same vein, what attracts to you to mid-century objects and aesthetics? I am particularly referring to the man and his navigation system in Backfire and the pedestal in Puer Aeernus Infallibility.
RM: I’m a pastor’s kid as well as an American so some of my work, especially my older work, comments on religious dogmas. I have been collecting and using mid-century objects/imagery in my work for years now and have always had a deep fascination for that strange time in America.
The white middle class was extremely strong with one household wage earner- it had that bright promise of a utopian American future while the unrest was about to boil over through the civil rights and anti-war movements. It was a fictional utopian America with this knowingly hidden, dark pain and I feel that in many ways it continues today. I love using those objects and aesthetic in my work.
GL: Talk a little bit about MASS Gallery and your involvement. Also, how has your relationship with the Austin arts scene shifted over time and what changes have you seen?
RM: MASS Gallery is a nonprofit artist run space in East Austin, with a 1500 sq. ft. gallery and another 1500 sq. ft. area that’s been divided up into five studio spaces, which we rent to local emerging artists. Currently we have nine active members that jointly contribute to the daily operations and planning of exhibitions, programming and other events.
The arts scene in Austin has been growing over the ten years I’ve lived there. There are many small artists run gallery spaces opening and closing: some are in homes and some studios turned in to galleries. The community of artists is strong and supportive but not really supported by the overall community of Austin. The few works that are sold at openings are most likely purchased by other artists and friends.
GL: Lastly, in one short sentence, how would you describe the arts in Austin?
RM: Vibrant, fun and supportive of each other, but rarely can an artist survive in Austin making strong contemporary art. The majority of us have day jobs to pay the bills.