ALBERTA: Mark Mullin,
A Sudden Change in Pressure,
Mar 2 ‹ 25, 2006,
Paul Kuhn Gallery

Imagine, if you will, flying on a 747 jet at 37,000 feet and, due to some kind of atmospheric fluctuation (perhaps the meeting of cold and warm fronts), the plane unexpectedly drops 300 feet. You and the other passengers experience turbulence and a sudden change in pressure. Perhaps you were heading west ‹ suddenly the direction changed and you are momentarily heading downward. What exactly happened between 37,000 feet and 36,700 feet? The plane briefly plummets in freefall; it is a moment of transition, an ambiguous time lapse between two states of being, between two directions.

Originally from Edmonton, Calgary-based artist Mark Mullin explores notions of transitional states in his work. His paintings exist on multiple planes simultaneously. The works, while essentially consisting of abstract forms, play with allusions to natural form, to representational elements, and to figure/ground relationships. In reading the work, there are aspects that seem familiar; geometric forms, fibrous weaving, knots, and graphic/grafitti references. The painted images function differently depending on whether the viewer is close or distant. From a distance the works resonate with implied spatial relationships of differing depths; close up the subtleties emerge ‹ the textures, the drawn elements, the surface qualities. The image layers offer a parallel to the function of a camera lens in the way that different focal lengths cannot all be in focus simultaneously; different parts assert themselves in different ways.

Ever since he was a fine arts graduate student at Concordia University, Mullin has been intrigued with the idea of "states of matter." He's researched chaos theory, quantum physics, and the uncertainty principle, examining notions of predictability and periodicity, and elements of flux. He has a fascination with the diagrams used to explicate mathematics and physics ‹ and the notion that such complexity can be simplified into lines, circles, and graphs. Without such serious scientific underpinnings, these diagrams, he claims, would seem comic or humorous. He chooses to play on those lighthearted elements within his work, referencing biological and physical attributes that loosely allude to sublimation, transition, and interstitial spaces.

Mullin's paintings tend to be somewhat pugnacious and invasive, inserting themselves forcefully into the viewer's space. The layers come forward and recede, the colours border on garishness, and the textured surfaces escape from the edge of the canvas. His subtle and delicate drawings are a foil to the invasiveness present in his paintings. While they carry on the vocabulary of the figure/ground relationships, they do so in a kinder, gentler way; and depict the sensitive hand that has gone into their creation. Yet within this current series of paintings, Mullin is beginning to introduce small areas of quiet surface drawing as if a dialogue is occurring between the paintings and drawings.

Within this body of work it seems as if all the paintings and drawings are engaging in some kind of conversation together, vying to be heard by each other. Their conversation, while beyond our immediate hearing, resides in the realm of sublimated spaces, in the transitional states of "in-between-ness."

‹ BY Kay Burns

originally published for Galleries West Online Magazine Spring 2006