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Sunday, May 1, 2011

Mulhern's Impressive 'New Work' at Folliard Gallery

Art Review

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Whether depicting a scene at the beach on a summer day or a canine competition inside an auditorium, artist Mark Mulhern captures the essence of the moment. His oil on linen brushwork subtly blends drawing and painting in his expert use of figures, shadows and atmospheric backgrounds.

These qualities are on display in Mulhern's seventh solo exhibition at Tory Folliard Gallery, titled “Mark Mulhern: New Work” (through May 14). Museums such as the Art Institute of Chicago, New York's Museum of Modern Art, and Paris' Bibliothèque Nationale have added the work of Mulhern to their collections.

By merging abstract gesture with realism, constant motion appears to occur even on two-dimensional surfaces. The two-dozen images in this exhibition—monotypes, oils and watercolors—feature broad, impasto strokes that demonstrate Mulhern's accomplished skill with composition and color.

The artist's vibrant blue Mediterranean seas and rich, toffee-colored sands captivate the eye in the large-scale works Under the Umbrella and Bathers on Blankets. Geometric forms and spontaneous lines unfold in common scenes that simulate the minutes ticking away on a relaxing, sunny day. These skills can be seen even in miniature images. Beach Study, Yellow Umbrella, a mere 10-by-8 inches, reduces warm sand and a cool sky to minimal, layered color on canvas while maximizing the image's inherent emotional delight.

Pigeons playing on a sidewalk give Mulhern's repertoire a fresh vision. Flamingo-pink feet peek out on delicately shaded gray birds in Pigeons at Mid-Day, St. Stephen's Green. Bright daylight and moody shadows vertically bisect the canvas; in the background, dripping paint creates a noon mist, leading the viewer to almost sense the pigeons moving on the cement.

Fragments of text often accentuate Mulhern's paintings, adding a written voice to the artwork—another psychological element to entice the viewer. These silent cues create a connection, a way to understand what the artist or his subjects may be feeling or saying. These markings add intellectual complexity and emotion without excessive detail, allowing the viewer to fill in missing references with personal reflections. The artist's paintings allude to place, time and space, but, with their heart and mind, viewers can determine for themselves what's actually happening.
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