Known for his photorealistic paintings and small pencil drawings, Martin Mull is a prolific American artist inspired by the visual culture and aesthetics of post-war America. Besides being a painter, Mull is also a successful actor, comedian, and singer. Drawing the inspiration from both lifestyle magazines and life experience, Mull adjusts the visual material, aiming to be against the frameworks of collective memory and cultural restlessness. Throughout his successful career in stand-up comedy, film and television, he is a confirmed satirist and his paintings face the comedy with the even amount of sorrow, pushing the limits beyond the irony to achieve a deeper meaning.
American Artistic Activism
Born in 1943, in Chicago, his family moved to New Canaan, Connecticut, where he finished the public high school. He studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, where he received his BFA, and later MFA degree. His painting career started during the 70’s, since when his work has been exhibited in numerous group and solo shows. It is also included in the permanent collection of many museums, as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, The Whitney Museum of Art, New York and the Total Contemporary Art Museum, Seoul. Mull was the one of the participants of the protest exhibition Flush with the Walls in the men’s room of the Boston Museum of Art, held on June 15, 1971 when the group of artists underlined the lack of contemporary and local art in the museum.
His work is a part of numerous permanent museum collections
Rising the Collective Memory
Combining the photorealism, pop art and collage, Mull’s paintings are melancholy with the hidden dark humor in some of them. Using the old photos, both personal and found, he revives the past time of the rising American society. Partially black and white with emphasized shadows, the surfaces merge with the muted pastel colors, which seems like the photos were kept in the old album for a long time. Representing the frozen moments from the subconscious, each scene could be a segment of the long story or life situation that will never end and reveal the final answer. The essence of his paintings is hidden in a term “ineluctable human condition”, showing the consequences of man’s resistance to his own nature. For example, the Tea Party, 2010, represent American women with the raised guns toward the unseen enemy, indicating the Cold War terror during the 50’s.
Mull’s works explore the consequences of man’s resistance to his own nature
Comedy and Satire in Every Career
Mull’s estimations are usually dark and inauspicious and it seems that his figures could suddenly vanish into the cloud of smoke. He questions the people’s choices which determine the faith, both collective and individual. Recalling his own childhood, his paintings made of old photographs, illustrations and wallpapers reflect American society from the 50’s. Romantic feelings of the past times are opposed to the Pop Art irony. Also known as a comic actor and satirist, Mull successfully adjusts all of his careers. Working on a familiar American terrain, it was not hard for him to conjoin banality and surreal with optimism and despair. Skillfully balanced between the hidden and revealed, his paintings remain open to discovery, trying not to impose judgment.
Martin Mull lives and works in Los Angeles.
Featured image: Martin Mull with his painting, State of the Union, which gives its name to the show at Samuel Freeman Gallery
All images used for illustrative purpose only