Lee Mullican


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Painter and sculptor. Best known for an aberrant, loosely geometric, abstract style derived from sources in surrealism and indigenous art, he continued throughout his life to experiment with varied forms reflecting transcendent philosophies. Born in Chickasha, Oklahoma, he studied at Abilene (Texas) Christian College (now University) and at the University of Oklahoma at Norman before enrolling at the Kansas City Art Institute in 1941. A year later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army to serve as a topographical draftsman in the Corps of Engineers. Following his release in 1946, he moved to San Francisco. There he soon collaborated with Wolfgang Paalen, an Austrian abstract painter and surrealist, and Gordon Onslow Ford in founding the Dynaton movement. (The name derives from the Greek for “the possible.”). Paalen generated the coalition's operative ideas, which he had begun to formulate in the pages of his magazine Dyn, an important international avant-garde publication between 1942 and 1944. The movement ambitiously aimed to synthesize surrealism with pre-Columbian styles and current concepts from physics. After the Dynaton movement culminated in a radical 1951 exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art (now San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), the founders drifted apart. Although not the driving force of the group, Mullican produced some of the most important art to emanate from it. In 1952 he moved permanently to the Los Angeles area, where he taught at UCLA for nearly thirty years before he retired in 1990. In glowing, vibrating compositions generally constructed from linear striations of paint applied with a knife edge, at mid-century he drew particularly on his understanding of Indian art, especially Navajo weavings and sand paintings, to create elastic patterns denoting spiritual energy. While extending surrealist interests in automatism and the unconscious, these works also sustain the period's avant-guard concern for preserving the integrity of the flat picture plane. Yet, Mullican's paintings shun the rhetoric of inner revelation prevalent among contemporary abstract expressionists. While expanding upon early interests, his later work incorporated also a range of stimuli from Eastern religions, tribal and modern art, and other sources. He also produced surrealistically tinged sculptures, often assemblages suggesting roots in tribal precedents.

MattMullican (1951– ), painter, sculptor, draftsman, collagist, and performance artist, extends his father's universalizing aspirations into the art of a distinctly different present. Born in Santa Monica, in the mid-1970s he moved to New York after graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Like many of his contemporaries who became known as appropriationists in the 1980s, he often culls imagery directly from the popular culture, although his purpose is not to critique the social construction of meaning. Rather, in enormous, encyclopedic grids of representational and abstract forms, he symbolizes the endless flow in all human experience between the conscious, the unconscious, and the external environment.

Subjects: Art.

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