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.”
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.
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.
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.