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Daniel Mullen’s paintings evoke an abstract spatial environment for contemplation

The Glasgow-born, Rotterdam-based painter plays with colours, light and darkness to let his paintings speak to the sense perception of the built environment.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Mar 04, 2023

In a world saturated with digitally motivated artworks, immaculate value is smoothly achieved sans the imperfection of handwork. The paintings by Glasgow-born, Rotterdam-based painter Daniel Mullen carry the sheen of digital work, yet on a closer look, the brushstroke, drips, irregular line, materials and linen refer to the hand of the maker. As the layer of paint soaks itself on exposed linen, the appearance of geometric work creates a play of colour, light and darkness. The works of Mullen push the audience to reorient their sense perception of the physical world when the digital eye dominates the field of vision. The artist is cognisant of this perception and how a digital image of physical artworks travels through the world and the perception of that, versus how the artwork operates in the physical world.

Installation view of (In)Visible Within, 2023 | Daniel Mullen | STIRworld
Installation view of (In)Visible Within, 2023 Image: Courtesy of Zipper Galeria

In an interview with STIR, Mullen says, “My work happens to translate very well into a digital image—so well in fact that it can be mistaken for being a digital rendering in the first place. I am very fascinated by this when the work is seen in the physical. All of this creates a presence and perception that is the antithesis of how the work operates digitally. But maybe this tension between the physical and the digital illustrates a broader question about our perception of reality.” A self-confessed impatient person, Mullen paints as a regenerative and meditative exercise that inhabits a liminal space devoid of strict aesthetics.

The abstraction present in his visual art work is akin to the visual vocabulary found in the artistic practice of Hilma af Klint, Josef Albers, Bridget Riley and Emma Kunz. The pensive conceptual inclination of the works rearrange the sense perception of the built environment. His practice up until now has been predominantly two-dimensional, defined by the frame of the painting. The raw linen available in the paintings have played a central role, as a philosophical visualisation of the eastern concept of emptiness. In other words, the artist sees the open linen as a universe where he places painted forms.

Continiuum, 2021, acrylic on linen, Daniel Mullen | Daniel Mullen | STIRworld
Continiuum, 2021, acrylic on linen Image: Courtesy of Zipper Galeria

“As my work speaks to architecture and has always had spatial qualities, I have always been curious about bringing my work into three dimensions. I am currently in the process of doing that and I suspect it will be a long exploration as I want the research development to be informed by the work,” elaborates Mullen. Recently, he has also started making work on cutout wooden panels. “What excites me in particular with these works is that the frame of the painting disappears and instead it is the wall that the work hangs on which becomes the universe surrounding it. And due to the perspective that deviates from that of the architecture, the work can subvert our sense of the built environment,” confides the textile artist.

Dyptich, Between Voids, 2020, Acrylic On Linen | Daniel Mullen | STIRworld
Dyptich, Between Voids, 2020, acrylic on linen Image: Courtesy of Galeria Kogan Amaro

Since the phenomena of light has consistently occupied the artist's mind, Mullen has always had a special interest in the works of artists such as James Turrell and Fred Sandback. Someone else who has had a direct impact on his current work is the architect Luis Barragan. “From September to November of 2022, I was participating in an artist residency in Mexico City. This was, in part to continue my research into light and colour, but also to produce works for an upcoming show in Brazil. While there, I encountered the work of Barragan, and his ability to use natural light to bathe the spaces of his design in different colour hues blew my mind. In a nice synchronicity, I had the perfect opportunity to start exploring a similarly inspired use of natural light for my show in Brazil—by using coloured plastic filters over the skylights in the exhibition space,” mentions the artist. The show, (In)Visible Within, opened in November 2022, curated by Ana Carolina Ralston, and was his first show with Zipper Gallery in São Paulo, the gallery really enabled him to push and experiment with how a larger space can play a role in the work.

Ephemeral fields, 2020, acrylic on linen, Daniel Mullen | Daniel Mullen | STIRworld
Ephemeral fields, 2020, acrylic on linen Image: Courtesy of Galeria Kogan Amaro

When asked about the final takeaways from his work, Mullen is reluctant to label them, but is keen to share his process and things that interest him personally as an artist. “I have studied the three J’s of colour theory—Johannes Itten, Johann Goethe, and Josef Albers—all of whom in various ways were busy with the study of colour perception. In my work, I am interested in expanding on these fundamental colour lessons, by bringing spatial qualities to the pieces which together create opportunities to challenge our sense of perception.” He is also interested in the friction between paint being material, but at the same time treating paint as if it is light (immaterial material). “I see it as a search for an almost alchemic phenomenological experience of materials. I suppose the resulting works offer an abstract spatial environment for contemplation or meditation,” informs Mullen.

Artist’s Portrait | Daniel Mullen | STIRworld
Artist Daniel Mullen Image: Daniel Mullen

Currently, a few of Mullen's works are being displayed in a show called The Color of Sound at the Sun Valley Museum of Art in Idaho. These works were made in collaboration with artist and filmmaker Lucy Cordes Engelman. At the moment, he is also working on a duo presentation for Art Rotterdam with Isabelle Borges, in conjunction with Frank Taal Gallery. After that he will be producing more works for a group show at the Warehouse Gallery in Shanghai.

Spatial-drift, No.7, 2022, acrylic on shaped wood panel Video: Daniel Mullen

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