Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Lee Mullican at John Bergguen (SF)

Note: This exhibition is scheduled to close on 6/2/07.

Lee Mullican (1919-1998) was a West Coast abstract painter who spent most of his career in Los Angeles. From his Oklahoma beginnings, he evolved into a cultured and well-traveled artist and art teacher. For several years at the beginning of his career, he lived in San Francisco.

Mullican developed a way of painting, and of incorporating a variety of cultural interests into painting, that stood outside the leading styles of his era. One distinctive feature was his use of the edge of a palette knife to create raised lines of paint. This often lent a tapestry-like aspect to the work.

Mullican exhibited steadily over a long career but his reputation was a quiet one. In an effort to raise his profile, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presented a retrospective of Mullican’s work in 2005-06.

A group of paintings from the early part of Mullican’s career is currently on view at John Berggruen Gallery in San Francisco. Images of several works, including two images from the gallery website, are shown at the top and below. However, photographs don't capture the texture of these works, so Bay Area art people (especially painters) will want to take a close look in person.

For me, Mullican's work seems a bit tame, somewhat reined-in even at its most ecstatic. And perhaps there's too much of a decorative impulse in certain works, although others have interesting mark making. The paintings are remarkably well crafted—the oil paint looks fresh. I’d be happy to spend some time sitting next to many of these paintings, glass of wine in hand, relaxing and talking amid their refined buzz.

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