Medium musings

Mark Mullin adds printing to his visual repertoire
Published October 25, 2007
Janelle Dubeau in Visual Arts,
Fast Forward Magazine

Mark Mullin’s New York Suite runs until November 10 at the Paul Kuhn Gallery

When I think of Mark Mullin’s body of work, the first thing that comes to mind are not his drawings but his vivid and densely woven abstract paintings. That’s because his paintings are like the crowd-pleaser of a party, that charismatic individual who commands everyone’s attention at all times. It’s the person whose memory lingers on in your mind long after the party is over.
Mullin’s drawings, on the other hand, are more like the introvert — the shy guy who stays away from large gatherings and prefers the attention of the few rather than the many. They are smaller, contemplative and they have a softer, more subdued colour palette than the paintings. Are Mullin’s stylistic differences between the two mediums a reflection of his own contradictory character traits? Perhaps, but the main goal of this metaphor is to make one understand that the drawings, even if they are more reserved than the paintings, still offer the viewer a reflective and rewarding experience.
The current exhibition of Mullin’s work at the Paul Kuhn Gallery not only gives viewers a great opportunity to compare one of his recent large-scale paintings, Engine, with his drawings, but also celebrates a new addition to the artist’s repertoire of mediums. Mullin’s lower-gallery exhibition New York Suitewas named after the four intanglio prints that the artist created in 2007 during a two-year residency at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York. Created in collaboration with master printmaker Marjorie Van Dyke, these etchings were inspired by four recent drawings by Mullin that are hung on the gallery’s east wall.

At first glance, the differences between these four drawings and their inspired etchings are hard to pinpoint, as they share the same arrangement, strokes and colour palette. On closer inspection, however, many particular qualities emerge from each medium. The drawings, created with a methodological combination of pastel, charcoal, ink and graphite pencil, have a more delicate and precise touch than the prints. They also possess subtler nuances in colour and gradation, and the shapes depicted are irregular, giving the whole a more dynamic feel. However, the harsher contours of the forms, the grittier feel of the scratched paper, and the more abrasive colours found in the prints create an interesting product.

There is one intanglio print in particular that strongly benefited from being re-created with this new medium. As a drawing, A Rebuilding Time is composed with murky, muted colours and spaces that bleed into one another, making it hard to find a focal point in the work where the eye can rest. As an intaglio print, A Rebuilding Time is stronger, as it pulls you in on specific areas of the work, like the crisp orange spots that float over the intricate bush-like structure in the background. An added element that was predominantly absent from the drawing is the silhouette of a halo that levitates above the spots and casts a shadow over a large section of the work.

Out of the 15 drawings and etchings present in the exhibition, seven drawings have been created post-New York, and in reaction to the prints. Not only did the prints bring new qualities to Mullin’s work, they also sparked new ideas and inspiration for the artist. These latest drawings generally have a more complex palette and are less focused on a large, centralized body of colour. A Disguising Time is one of the prints most removed from Mullin’s previous visual formula. The green colour drifted from its usual central position to the edges of the work and was replaced by a graphic pointillist cloud floating upwards. The lightness and bubbliness of the whole composition lends the work a comical undertone.
Mullin works in various mediums because it allows him “to achieve a sense of understanding of something pertinent, a searching, a construction of something new that generates interesting questions. If this is not happening then one’s work — abstract or not — becomes a formal reshuffling of idle elements.”