Freak of the Week ~ Karl Mullen

Freak of the Week is a column that happens nearly every week and features a friend or acquaintance who is making exemplary art and/or working toward environmental harmony.  Most of the folks introduced here are friends although suggestions and notes of interest are always welcome.  This week meet our featured artist showing at BINGO!, the gallery within the church, Karl Mullen

I am Karl Mullen, born Dublin, Ireland, I am a self taught Artist and musician living and working in Williamstown, MA.  Not being very adept at describing myself, I asks my good friend, Poet Cassandra Cleghorn to do so.  This is what she wrote:

Karl Mullen's palette is the larder:  red wine, walnut oil and ink, Barry's tea, pastes in silver tins, powders like exotic spices.  To watch Mullen paint is to watch a weird amalgam of line chef, body-worker, bartender and day laborer, each having sworn off the traditional tools of the trade.  In his studio--the just barely heated, former horse stall of his 19th-century barn--he drops a fresh piece of 22" x 30" Arches paper onto the concrete floor.  Standing over the paper, he pours two small circles of walnut ink, leans over to spit into each pool, watches the chemical sizzle for a moment or two, then crouches, nicking into each pool with the edge of a sharp-tipped palette knife, scraping away, pulling down strands of ink in curves and arcs. These gestures form the outlines and initial features of the human figures characteristic of Mullen's work.

Mullen discovers his subjects as he paints, surprising himself, restless.  Some figures will have limbs that stretch in ways at once impossible yet familiar.  Some will have rather more vestigial parts, like tadpole ancestors toward whom we feel inexplicably drawn.  Rib-like lines may radiate from a spine, a torso may store organs of secret color.  Mullen's figures wear hats or crowns, play instruments, balance odd packages. They may stand apart, listing toward one another or veering away.  They may embrace with elastic, ecstatic arms.  One body may subsume another.  Their faces may tilt, dog-style, wondering, waiting.   Around the figures Mullen may gouge curves and tracks, carving à la cuneiform. A prolific artist, Mullen typically has dozens of paintings at varying stages of completion.  Stacks of them lean against the rough-plank walls or lie in the shallow drawers of metal drafting cabinets.  Clutter is everywhere; no surface is clear.  A banjo sits on top of a bowl of bottle caps.  A wooden crate of brushes and ink jars teeters on a djembe.  When a mouse chews a hole in a painting, opportunities appear. Mullen's work is shown in galleries throughout North America and Europe, and in the annual Outsider Art Fair in New York.  Like Dubuffet's art brut, of which "outsider art" is the English approximation,Mullen's paintings privilege the raw over the cooked, spontaneous process over studied composition, the iconic over the naturalistic, the primitive over the polished. A painting at the initial ink-, wine-, and tea-stage will dry for a long as a month.  When Mullen returns to it, he may add oil pastel detail or scoop from a silver tin of cold wax.  Then he pours swirls of Graham's walnut oil to form the field of color upon which the figures are poised to move.  Onto the oil he shakes generous amounts of Sennelier dry pigment (Picasso's brand), stalking around the paper, a distracted man, pacing.  Then, pulling on gloves, he kneels to the floor and begins to rub, open palms smearing in circular motions, reaching with outstretched arm, massaging the fresh-mixed pigment into the very skin of the paper.  He swabs the excess with a wadded rag.  New bodies may surface.  An orb may appear on the paper, rimmed by beads of light or shadow, signs of eclipses as yet undocumented by science.  Tears may be shed by the radiant sky itself.  Pressed up against the sky, a face may squint or smirk.  Rambunctiousness is afoot.  Ardor is always just around the corner.true datCassandra J. Cleghorn - Poet

2. How do you know Crispina?  Tell a story – how did you meet?  When?  Where?  Who introduced you? I first met Crispina when potter Jacklie Sedlock said Crispina was looking for a Banjo player for an event in her Church last May.


3. Who/what has been most influential in your work?

Failure is  my biggest influence.


4. If you could (you probably are) send(ing) a message to the world what would it be?

Not sure about a concrete message being in my work… more of just a continuing series of unanswered questions.


5.  When and how did you know to follow the path you have chosen?

Have a I chosen a path?


6.  Where do you find your inspiration/motivation to continue? What else can we do but continue to do what we do


7.  Aside from working, how do you spend your time? Thinking about it.


8.  What is one of your fondest memories?  Why?

Being on top of the Three Rock Mountain in Dublin with my mother, on a gorgeous spring day, looking down on the city and Dublin bay, she says with a lovely lilting sigh 'aren't all the best things in life for free "

9.  Do you have a prized possession?  What is it?

Two Irish bashed aluminium 1 pint pots, the famous and fantastic  Castle Brand which have been used and loved for over 50 years so far.


10.  Tell about a magical moment that comes to mind when you look back on your life experience.

A black dog saved my life when i was 3.


11.  If you were able to prepare a meal for anyone – dead or alive, who would it be?  What would you want to discuss with that person?  What would you serve?

Burnt toast for Beckett.


12.  What is your favorite color? The color of love.


13.  What place is your favorite travel destination?  My memory.


14.  What is a goal or focus for your next 12 months? To continue to squint at the out of focus world.

15.  How would you like to be different from who you are now, in 10 years? I'd like to be 10 years older and non the wiser.


16.  Paint a picture of your legacy.  How would you like to be remembered?

I'd perfer to be forgotten.



I paint daily in an old barn and would be happy if anyone want to come for a studio visit

Karl Mullen, Williamstown, Studio visits by appointment

Karl is our featured artist at BINGO! f(the gallery within Crispina's church).  Visit us this month (July 2013) to see his show.  We are open Wednesdays and Fridays 10-4 or by appointment 413-236-9600.

Every First Friday of the month, in collaboration with the City of Pittsfield's First Fridays Artswalk, we open a show of fresh work, from hither and yon, fuzzying the edges of art and craft.