An Unfolding Sense of Order
It was the year without a summer. Volcanic eruptions and climactic events had driven most Europeans and the majority of North Americans indoors. Extreme cold snaps in the middle of July destroyed crops across the northern hemisphere and killed hundreds in what has been dubbed the Poverty Year. The year was 1816, and Mary Shelley was retreating by Lake Geneva in Switzerland. Here, close to other literary greats like Lord Byron, she produced a timeless masterpiece - Mary created Frankenstein.
Frankenstein, the monster who has moved from the antagonizing role of freakish murderer to the comfortable confines of victim, has come to reflect the socio- mentality of today’s’ generations. Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus, has symbolized the Industrial Revolution and the future predictions of man’s over extensions with science and moral irresponsibility. In popular culture, as in Greek mythology, Frankenstein has been a cause célèbre and signifier for revelry against authority and the bourgeois. As the monster, he is grotesque- the destroyer of life. As the man, Frankenstein is a catalyst for generosity and innocence, and challenges our notions of what may, or not, be perceived as beautiful. It is in this fold between beauty and the monstrous where Mark Mullin places his art. The paintings and drawings that he crafts are stories, which repeat themselves in an attempt to create and re-create the freakish, the subtle interruptions of mathematics. Mullin calls this an act of ‘noble futility’.
Mullin’s studio is in the top floor of the Old Cannery Row building. A large studio, with a sunny south exposure, is lined with paintings and projects on the go, ready to leave for an exhibition or quietly stored and waiting to see what happens next. The paintings that you see here at the Art Gallery of Calgary have been selected from the quiet ones standing, almost hiding out of the way. These large canvasses are earlier works dating from 1999 to 2000. The abstract language Mullin uses is organic and draws upon physics, biochemistry, and even graffiti and comic books. The body of work presented here forms a bridge in Mullin’s creative dialogue between a quiet internal conversation and his external explorations, and between past and present works - unfolding before the spectator with reoccurring shapes and colours. In an unfolding sense of order, Mullin gives us a glimpse into a very personal way of seeing, part journal, part research, and like a mad scientist, part experiment - this is Mullin’s way of trying to stitch together the monster.
This link between earlier paintings and Mullin’s latest paper works give a sense of looking through a microscope, letting the viewer explore a world that is both beautiful and repulsive. The paintings, oil on canvas, come alive with abstract shapes resembling cell structures, nuclear explosions or microbiology. The feeling, however, is one of peacefulness and contemplation. There is measured control in the placement and decision making that triggers sensitivity or even, a likeability factor - much like Frankenstein does as the misunderstood human hybrid.
Influenced by American Abstract painters Robert Ryman (b.1930) and Sol LeWitt (b.1928),who both based so much of their work on mathematical equations and by a set of self-imposed restrictions, Mullin also uses a set of self-imposed rules. However, with Mullin, the formula is extended into a self-critical reference that seems to float between the ephemeral and the real. Mullin’s dialogue flows between references of time and loss, control and uncontrolled, evolution and non-evolution.
It is in this in betweeness hybrid thought that Mark Mullin begins to tell a story, his own story of the monsters that live unseen to the naked eye. And it is in the repetitive telling that the viewer may begin to find the bits and pieces that form Mullin’s explorations. As Frankenstein was created from a waking dream, so are Mullin’s paintings.
Mark Mullin was born in Alberta; he studied Art at the University of Alberta and received his M.F.A from the department of Drawing and Painting in Concordia University, Montreal, QC. He lives and works in Calgary and is represented by the Paul Kuhn Gallery.
Alexandra Keim is an independent curator living and working in Calgary and abroad. She has curated several exhibitions; most recently ‘PINK’ as former Chief Curator for the Art Gallery of Calgary. She founded and directed camac, a multi-disciplinary art centre in France.