Philip Mullen 1994-2008

When: Thursday, April 3 – May 30, 2008. Opening reception April 3rd, 5:30 – 7:30 pm. Artist will be in attendance.

Where: Sumter County Gallery of Art, 200 Hasel St., Sumter, SC 29150 (adjacent to Patriot Hall)

Highlights: The Sumter County Gallery of Art is honored to present Philip Mullen 1994 – 2008. Probably the most renowned artist working in the state of South Carolina today, Philip Mullen is an artist’s artist who celebrates the richness of the visual world. Karen Watson, Director of the Sumter County Gallery of Art, states: “the exhibition is comprised of 40 works of varied subject matter from interior still lives: vases of flowers, arrays of boxes, the artist’s studio, to exterior scenes, European villas, ponds of Koi fish, inviting porches and markets. The works range in size from 10 feet to 24 by 18 inches, and everything in between. No matter what the size, the work is consistently strong, complex and colorful. The recent 2008 works especially, all smaller interior still lives, are distinctive for their bright colors, loose brush strokes and a fluidity that finds the outlines of objects fading as vases and flowers seem to float in a “pool” of a green or blue tabletop.”

Andy Reed, writing about the exhibition Philip Mullen: Paintings within Paintings at David Findlay Galleries in 2007 astutely observes:

Fluid, complex, abstract yet deeply rooted in the world of things experienced in a tactile way, Mullen’s paintings are both carefully thought out and joyously care-free. Philip Mullen’s art represents not an artistic simplification of visual reality but a voluptuous re-imagining and re-working of it, which prevents a viewer from taking them in all at once. And Mr. Mullen would not have it any other way. The fine balance he consistently achieves is one of beguiling the viewer to “work” at appreciating them while not making him feel coerced in any way while he does so. The success of Mr. Mullen’s painting lies in how happily the viewer complies with this task. And the reward for doing so is ongoing: his paintings continually offer up new visual insights to note and luxuriate in, new visual experiences to enliven the eye and to provide repose for the mind.

Much of Mullen’s work has as its theme paintings within paintings: the unseen artist in his studio contemplating paintings, or rather the familiar look of paintings, of European masters of particular artistic interest to Mr. Mullen – Matisse, Modigliani and Lesieur. The studio setting of an artist very much at work amidst his paint, brushes and sturdy crank-style easels provides the backdrop, a reference that is carried steadily throughout.

The picture within picture theme extends to another subject, that of a beach or a harbor scene, the artist looking out his imagined picture window to paint boats passing in the water or figures busily at their leisure on the beach. There is a striking shift in these paintings because the point of view is now from the inside looking out. The outside floods the interior space of the studio. Instead of a mood of reverie, we have the world lapping, quite literally, at one’s feet. The artist’s strategy of doubling the viewpoint serves to underscore and intensify the experience of the world and to make the viewer a direct participant in it. The outward looking perspective is reflected in a much different color palette of cool blues, powerful highlights of red and intense whiteness, the bleaching effect of the sun.

The skill and boldness of Mullen’s handling of color and light is everywhere in evidence. Those familiar with his work will note his signature use of shutters, which afford him so many surfaces with which to explore and juxtapose different tonal qualities of light. Here Mr. Mullen is engaged in the artistic endeavor at its purest and most primal: the lavishing of color on canvas. At the same time, the shutters are suggestive of something unseen and unknown going on beyond them and the very human desire to modulate and exert a measure of control over the on-rush of outer experience. In a way, they serve as a perfect metaphor for the activity of the artist.

Mullen is currently Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Art at the University of South Carolina. His work has been in many prestigious exhibitions including the Biennial of Contemporary Art, Whitney Museum, NY, the Simon Guggenheim Museum, NY, Biennial of Painting and Sculpture, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, National Drawing Exhibition, San Francisco Museum of Art, 21st National Print Exhibition, The Brooklyn Museum, NY, a 35 Year Retrospective, McKissick Museum, Columbia, SC (1995), and a Permanent Solo Exhibition, Koger Center for the Arts, Columbia, SC. Mullen is represented by David Findlay Galleries, NY, where he has had numerous solo exhibitions.


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