Article in Santa Fe Reporter, by Liz Brindley

Matthew Mullins gets back to nature

And totally goes with the flow

June 14, 2017

By Liz Brindley

Walk into any gallery on Canyon Road and you’ll likely encounter a landscape painting: stunning vistas, expansive skies, expensive prices. After a while, the subject is worn out. When artist Matthew Mullins moved to Santa Fe, he told himself he was not going to paint landscapes, but now that’s the main focus of his work.

“When I moved to New Mexico, I was aware of landscape painting’s presence in Santa Fe,” Mullins says in his greenhouse studio as rain lightly patters on the windows. “I didn’t want anything to do with it—it felt too safe. I was resistant to being influenced by the landscape. But then it became inevitable.”

 Matthew Mullins, Ridge, Oil on canvas

Matthew Mullins, Ridge, Oil on canvas

A few years ago, Mullins was creating an array of intensely photorealistic watercolors depicting museum basements and scientific storage facilities, drastically different environments than what he depicts today. Mullins tried to hold onto this practice when he arrived in the Southwest, but ultimately found it was forced. The landscape’s call was too strong, and he had to shift gears. Mullins let go into the flow of new creative tides and began painting his surroundings.

But his interpretations do not follow the traditional trail of landscape paintings. Rather, they dive into an abstract realm where barriers of stark white geometric lines cover the canvas and act as protectors of natural spaces. This veil of patterns is inspired by human design seen in quilts, tiles, tapestries—anything created by hand.

“In these paintings, I combine two disparate things,” Mullins explains. “The geometric pattern and the natural landscape. I want the pattern to help the landscape and the landscape to help the pattern to ultimately bridge the divide and make it as harmonious as possible.”

 Matthew Mullins, Caldera, Oil on Canvas

Matthew Mullins, Caldera, Oil on Canvas

The layered composition of opposing forces makes our brains stumble for a moment as we try to make sense of what is going on. Mullins wants viewers to let go of the desire to “figure it out” and surrender to the visual experience.

“The pattern prevents instantaneous answers,” he says, “but if you give it even three seconds, your brain will start to make some sense of it—and that’s not a lot to ask, but it’s more than a lot of people are willing to give.”

Close observation reveals the natural world embedded into the process. Mullins incorporates a variety of elements into his paints including slate, zinc and nickel.

“I’m really into rocks. They have this special earth energy that we pick up on somehow; I usually have a rock in my pocket,” he shares, pulling out a reflective black stone. “Today I have a meteorite.”

This admiration for different elements of the earth recently led the artist to shift into sculpture. Furthering ecological exploration, Mullins collects gnarly chunks of wood and coats them entirely with graphite. This meditative exercise releases the human construct of time and falls into the natural rhythm of process.

“I like to get into these flow states, these trance states, where you’re really involved in the process,” he says. “With these sculptures, it’s just doing the one thing. It’s a simple process, but it’s a very focused process. You have to be really aware of every ridge of the wood to care for its delicate nature.”

 Matthew Mullins, Tripod, Graphite on Found Wood

Matthew Mullins, Tripod, Graphite on Found Wood

By the time the process is complete, what was once a recognizable section of wood looks charred and mechanical, an appearance that radiates a futuristic feeling and grates against our traditional notions of nature. These sculptural works beg to be touched, but instead sit silent on white gallery pedestals, frozen in time as projected future preservations of the present moment.

As for the future of Mullins’ artwork, he says he doesn’t have an exact plan. “I want to be surprised by the art process,” he tells SFR. “It’s like crossing a river with stepping stones. I’m only thinking about the next stone.”

Mullins’ landscapes are currently elevated on the walls of form & concept (435 S Guadalupe St., 982-8111), because sometimes that is what it takes for an everyday subject to be respected and seen. On view as part of the gallery’s one-year anniversary exhibition through Oct. 22, Mullins’ hope for his pieces is that people will take time to slow down, let the visual patterns wash over them, and leave with a greater awareness of nature.

Anniversary Show at form & concept by: Kelly Skeen

An initial observation of one of Matthew Mullins’ recent paintings leaves us feeling confronted and even mystified as our eye battles with a barricading pattern in order to perceive the image behind it. As we push and pull our vision past lines and vertices, through narrow spaces and under obstructed views, we prolong our looking and begin to piece together a landscape, fragmented yet whole in our perception. As our mind toggles back and forth between imagery and abstraction we’re forced to reengage with the landscape and soon find ourselves shifting from simple observation to visual meditation. “Ultimately, you’re getting to that place beyond seeing or looking and just experiencing,” says Mullins. “After a while your brain makes sense of it, so that feeling of frustration you experience on the first look has gone away by the third.”

 Matthew Mullins , Sun Mountain , Oil on Canvas, 30" x 40" (76cm x 101cm)

Matthew Mullins, Sun Mountain, Oil on Canvas, 30" x 40" (76cm x 101cm)

Once our mind falls into the rhythm of the composition, its overlaid pattern guides us across the landscape as each repetition of shapes corresponds with the imagery beneath it. In Pink Pine, the pattern’s vertices and star shapes are aligned with key points on the snow-covered tree, illuminating its natural form and orienting our perception to encounter every detail of the serene image. In Silver Summits, triangular patterns follow pointed peaks and steep planes across a mountain ridge, while horizon lines provide spatial orientation of a summit ridgeline in Sun Mountain.  These pieces and more will debut this month at form & concept’s One-Year Anniversary Exhibition, opening Friday, May 26 from 5-8pm.

 Matthew Mullins,  Pink Pine,  Oil on Canvas, 40" x 30" (101cm x76cm)

Matthew Mullins, Pink Pine, Oil on Canvas, 40" x 30" (101cm x76cm)

Since his inaugural exhibition with form & concept last October, Mullins has honed his techniques with precise patterning and intentional compositions while loosening his painting style with layers of oil rather than watercolor. In addition to creating eight new paintings for the show, Mullins has recently developed a three dimensional body of work that tangibly embodies the interaction between human consciousness and natural forms. In their first public display, wood and graphite sculptures will compliment the artist’s paintings in this month’s exhibition.

 Detail of new graphite and wood sculpture.

Detail of new graphite and wood sculpture.

Graphite on Wood: Collaborating with Earth, Sun and Wind

Several of Mullins’ paintings are made with natural pigments including graphite, slate, mica, nickel and chromium to cultivate a direct connection with the natural world. As the artist was painting trees and other landscapes with graphite, it occurred to him that these natural shapes could be similarly embodied in three-dimensional form. The idea clicked during a hike on Atalaya Summit in Santa Fe where Mullins took a small piece of natural wood home with him and began to experiment. Through a labor-intensive and transformative process Mullins imbues graphite into the surface of the wood, which burnishes away superficial layers of loose dirt and fibers. This gritty, physical endeavor distills the wood down to its most elemental form, drawing attention to every textural detail that has grown over time or been shaped by natural elements such as fire, water and wind. Our reaction is similar to the felt experience in front of Mullins’ paintings; we first encounter the artist’s hand and evidence of human consciousness, which causes us to reengage with the piece and examine every illuminated detail of its natural form.

The Artist's Process by: Kelly Skeen

The Artist’s Process

by: Kelly Skeen

 

From intimate works on paper to large-scale canvases, the bulk of Matthew Mullins’ work begins with layers upon layers of acrylic ink and watercolor that form a realistic under painting of a natural environment. The artist then begins to obscure the image with a human made pattern, maybe found from a folk tradition or a tiling manual, allowing the two elements to intersect and mingle on the paper or canvas in an intuitive way. A mystical grove of pine treesa serene lake, or a majestic mountain landscape is imbued with a construct that has been filtered by mankind. The result doesn’t create clash or controversy; it realizes harmony as a visualization of the unified web to which we all belong.

 Matthew Mullins, Pines (Blue), Acrylic on canvas over panel, 16" x 12"

Matthew Mullins, Pines (Blue), Acrylic on canvas over panel, 16" x 12"

“My work draws upon my fascination with visual perception and the forces of nature,” explains Mullins in his artist statement. “By integrating human made constructs with natural environments, I’m composing a relationship that is often deconstructed or forgotten in today’s society.”

 Matthew Mullins,  Ridgeline,  Watercolor on Paper,  60" x 40"

Matthew Mullins, Ridgeline, Watercolor on Paper,  60" x 40"

This process allows for risk taking and ambiguous experimentation, an exciting prospect for the artist. The permanence of the medium stimulates Mullins as he progresses through a piece, obscuring parts that could have taken hours to complete. As the acrylic ink immediately stains the paper, Mullins is inspired by the sense of risk in that moment. The piece continues to build and shift with each layer of ink, and is finished with watercolor to soften the hard edges of the acrylic. See this process embodied in ChicomaAspen & PineNebula, and Annie, among others.

 Matthew Mullins,  Chicoma , Acrylic Ink and Watercolor, 58" x 38"

Matthew Mullins, Chicoma, Acrylic Ink and Watercolor, 58" x 38"

Mullins dives deeper into the literal connection between humans and nature with a series of mandala pieces called The Creation of the Elements. These cosmic watercolors take us out of our typical earthly view and into an environment similar to the one in which we were created. The starry sky imagery recalls the origins of our universe and subsequent formation of stars through hydrogen gases and cosmic dust. Many of the elements in our own physical bodies were created in this process; as a testament to this, Mullins finishes each piece in the series with a resonating artifact such as a drop of blood, or a small piece of copper, paying homage to the original integration of natural forces and our physical selves.

 Matthew Mullins, The Creation of Copper (Pleiades), Watercolor and Copper on Paper, 24" x 24"

Matthew Mullins, The Creation of Copper (Pleiades), Watercolor and Copper on Paper, 24" x 24"

Mullins also experiments with collage, drawing inspiration from crazy quilts, and has a traditional landscape watercolor series. He began these works on paper as a way to deepen his skillset for painting the natural scenes in his patterned work. To learn more about Mullins’ process and life in the studio, follow his Studio page and connect with him on Instagram and Facebook. You can also see his finished work on display at Form & Concept in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

 Matthew Mullins,  Grizzly Peak, Berkeley,  Graphite Drawing, 19th Century Lithograph,  Watercolor and Acrylic on Paper, 20" x 16"

Matthew Mullins, Grizzly Peak, Berkeley, Graphite Drawing, 19th Century Lithograph,  Watercolor and Acrylic on Paper, 20" x 16"

Blurring the Lines between Art and Craft by: Kelly Skeen

Matt Mullins’ artistic blend of human design and the landscape most significantly

represents our integration with the natural world. However, there is another theme

that emerges from his combination of human-designed patterning and the artistic

rendering of nature, which is the visual collaboration between the realms of art,

craft, and design. This interconnection is in direct alignment with the mission of

Form & Concept, a gallery in Santa Fe’s Railyard Art District that is breaking

preconceived distinctions between these disciplines.

“I think we’re one of the few galleries that looks at craft from an overview,” says

Frank Rose, Form & Concept’s gallery director. “We want to insert craft, design, and

technology into the art conversation and explore their interrelationships. We don’t

view these genres as separate from art, and we’d like to encourage others to view

through this lens.”

The gallery has supported this overview through rotating exhibitions and temporary

artist residencies, and has recently announced they are now acquiring four stable

artists whose work also embodies this vision. According to Rose, Mullins was a quick

choice for representation as an artist whose career he’d been following from the

beginning.

“The interrelationship of human design and ‘natural’ design explored in Matt’s art is

a core expression of many craft-based works,” Rose explains. “I chose him to be

represented by the gallery because I believe in his work and want to see him

succeed as an artist.”

The overlaid patterns in Mullins’ paintings are derived from craft traditions such as

quilt making and tiling. By combining these constructs with landscape painting, he is

bringing craft and design into an artistically focused context, which motivates

viewers to consider connections between the art forms.

 Matthew Mullins,  Chicoma,  Watercolor and Acrylic Ink, 58" x 38"

Matthew Mullins, Chicoma, Watercolor and Acrylic Ink, 58" x 38"

“With craft makers, there is often a preconceived idea of what the end result will be,”

says Mullins. “Art calls for more experimentation and intuitiveness. With my work, I

have a general idea of two aspects: the outcome of the pattern and the painting of

the landscape. The mystery then lies in the combination, bringing the two together.”

Form & Concept’s next opening will celebrate the four new artists, which in addition

to Mullins are Wesley Anderegg, Heather Bradley, and Heidi Brandow. The event will

take place on October 28th, 5-7pm in the gallery’s upstairs mezzanine. View the

event on Facebook and Form & Concept’s website.