POINT AND LINE TO PLAIN: Mark Mullin - Re-Connecting the Dots to the Modernist Legacy
written by Jeffrey Spalding, 2015
Mark Mullin makes seriously stupid paintings. For the past number of years he has pursued the creation of paintings that are just plain awkward. Animated and active, many of the works appear as if their many constituents players are scurrying around to get into formation just in time for the commencement of the aesthetic snap. The playing field is not flat, 2-D and planar, his works burgeon out from the wall, extra thick stretchers propel the painting surface into our face, and lavish impasto paint application bounds off the canvas support. He creates obdurate, physically insistent objects; the paintings cannot be constrained by the fabric of the canvas. Their body language seems to suggest that they are stumbling, fumbling, bumbling their way steadfast towards realization. So is this it? Are they the outcome and manifestation of sheer muscular might? I think not, their construction reveals another knowing reality.
A quick re-telling of his preferred palette and modus operandi send us off rapidly to the
world of the hip street smart art of Los Angeles. His world is not one of classic artist’s supply
store primary pigments; he embraces strident colours of our time ---neon florescent, graffiti,
lurid, acrid combinations that are as unlikely as they are disconcerting. Since the 1978
Whitney Museum “Bad Painting” exhibition many artists have conspired to make a virtueof the appearance of an attitude of ineptness, casualness, clumsiness, clunkiness and a
flagrant disregard for the tastes of its audience (we all know the drill: Jonathan Lasker, Peter
Halley, Ross Bleckner, David Urban, Peter Schuyff, in the spirit of Philip Guston, you get the
picture?). Mullin’s abstract paintings are of our day. Their postures point us towards youth
culture, irreverence, playfulness, risk-taking and sheer spunk. So why won’t I settle into the
At their heart, Mark Mullin is making figure-ground, relational pictures. Their compositional
decisions are quite classic and in effect reflect the teachings of the great painter and leader
of the Hans Hoffmann School of Art, Provincetown, Massachusetts. The structure of Hoffmann’s
paintings has some bearing here. Backgrounds are just that, stained, constrained in colour
as supports for more flamboyant thickly painted shapes that hover on top of the painterly
In the works for this current exhibition, I contend that Mullin has indeed struck a new path. The earlier works benefitted from and relied upon being quirky and irreverent, (perhaps even a bit self-consciously goofy). This series of works shows a more confident artist, not needing to demonstrate his youthful rebellion, but instead quietly, introspectively grappling with making compelling paintings. Can painterly command be radical? Can beauty be relevant? I think we see that it can.
Jeffrey Spalding is an artist, author and has served as Director at major art museums. He was President, Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, awarded the Order of Canada (2007) and recently named Adjunct Professor, University of Calgary.