(Originally appeared in July of this year)
For our 5 year anniversary show we decided to slip the curtain back a bit and reveal some of the methods behind the magic. Texas artist and experimental musician Mike Monk agreed to fry-up a mess of evocative questions and Richard Mullins stepped out of the shadows to take a load off, sit down and answer ‘em. Here it is...the first ever BBG interview with co-founder Richard Mullins.
It’s been five years since the creation of Blah Blah Gallery which has been the primary source of exposure for your work and the work of comrade Gregg Griffin, as well as a major source of exposure for many obscure and known, working artists. Do you feel that BBG as a vehicle has given you personally the range of exposure you had hoped for?
No question it has been far more successful than we imagined. We started with the idea that our work was hard to place for traditional galleries because it fell between the commercial illustration-as-art low brow (Juxtapoz) scene (too raw) and the intellectual coldness of the high-brow Art Forum art world (not conceptual enough.) In the 5 years we have been at this things out there have morphed, mushroomed and changed a bit. The internet is erasing borders with a swift and deft stroke. But Art In America hasn't changed much and glossy, the slick, shallow Low Brow stuff is not getting much deeper. We are looking for painters who are not to let their ass hang out when they work.
Your last time to show was in the summer of 2004. What has kept you away from the gallery scene over the last few years?
It has been a while. I'm looking at some brick and mortar shows. I have one this month at the Pegasus Gallery in Dallas, Texas. It will be the first public showing of Lost Cartoons as a series. Galley shows are pain, especially when you have to ship your work, worry about insurance, fly out for the opening etc.. Maybe I've just gotten lazy or whatever.
Looking back, your older work (notably the ‘Song of the Snowman’ series) was executed with a cleaner, tighter style than what you’ve been doing for the last couple of years, with ‘The Fall of Man’ seeming to be the litmus test in terms of degradation of form. Was this a conscience effort to get away from the larger scale, more ‘intellectually challenging’ material or just natural progression?
The large ones on canvas where very tight. I even did color studies before I started painting them. But when I was doing the tight paintings for Song I was also painting a large amount of super-fast, very direct and slashing smaller works on heavy card stock. A kind of painted sketchbook. When I was in graduate school at the San Francisco Art Institute I started worked the loose stuff bigger an also began painting city scenes with no people (a reflection of North Beach late at night which I loved most-just me, the killer architecture and the ocean air) When I moved back to Texas I switched to acrylic on cardboard and started on Abandoned City. I had to re-submit my thesis series because the in part because hard-line feminist at S.F.A.I. refused to accept my heterosexual male visions as manifest in Song of the Snowman. Also I consider the series a true pictorial language which didn't sit well with them. They had the idea if you can't explain everything in words it must not be worthwhile. (I also hate 'artist's statements but that is for another day.) I graduated with Abandoned City which I literally nailed to walls of Fort Mason at the graduate show. I showed 15 large paintings with no gaps, edge-to-edge like a huge continuous piece. When I took it down I walked off with the paintings rolled up in a giant mailing tube and the wall riddled with nails. Back to your question, painting tight just wasn't fun anymore but I still occasionally do it but mainly in drawings.
The Snowman series had a developed cast of characters which seemed to be a big heaping slice of your psyche (and in some cases the effect of personal relationships and an understanding of basic human nature) slapped onto canvas. Was this series more a purge of emotion or a meticulously crafted cartoon?
People always wanted me to paint the story in linear panels so they could 'get it' as easily as a shampoo commercial. It never came to me like that....it was an escapist, cathartic 'otherworld' for me. Not exactly me but pretty much me. When I was living in San Francisco (97 to 99) it kind of turned inside out to the point where I was living the paintings in the best tradition of the Beat Generation that is self-confession. But it got to be too much. I made an 8 minute filmed called The Robber which was to be the end of a feature long film of Song of the Snowman. I realized then it had gone to far. I killed the whole thing in 1999.
There is a certain gloom lingering about the titles of your work: ‘The Fall of Man’, ‘Paradise Lost’, ‘Abandoned City’. Even ‘Lost Cartoons’, ‘Song…’, and ‘Whatever Cartoons’ have a dissonant ring to them. The ‘Heros’ series and your newest work for ‘House As Church’ seem to be only the only titles offering a glimpse of hope in an otherwise dismally painted reality. What’s the source of such lonesome landscapes and dejected would-be characters?
Well Heros is a tongue-in-cheek reference to our world today where kids and most of the rest of us hate and distrust any kind of authority or elevated being. If you are looking for hope it is in early Song of the Snowman stuff maybe but I've always been interested in the Beautiful Loser. Charles M. Schulz's Charlie Brown scarred me for life (ha ha) I don't know I don't want to say I'm a depressed person all the time because I'm not but my visions generally seem to come out that way.
Speaking of House As Church, let’s have some insight as to the inspiration and meaning behind the comforting, yet concurrently somehow almost melancholy series.
House-as-Church is a depiction of the 'quiet Christian' (like myself) that used be the norm, before the often obnoxious Evangelical image and the scandal-ridden Catholic church replaced us. It also refers to the Protestant concept of connecting to, praying to and reading the Word of God anywhere and not feeling like you have to be in a cathedral to connect. The American idea of home-as-castle is really at the center of it. I realize like in Abandoned City the feeling is melancholy and decaying but this is the vision I see.
It’s evident in much of your imagery that you draw from memories of your childhood and the good old days in general. I’m curious if lately with the addition of robots being introduced as characters, if this is represents a symbol of what you see for the future in a era of ever increasing reliance on technology?
The Robots spun off of Lost Cartoons which in it's early days had this The Future That Was sort of Jestonsish thing. I enjoy them but that are as pretty much just fun to paint. I don't see a lot of intellectual or spiritual qualities with them. Back in Song I did a short-lived, failed character called Boy-Robot that related to how the computer was starting to change people into machines in the way the live and think. But the new stuff...just get a kick out of painting it. Probably as close to a pop song as I've done so far.
Where do you feel your work stands in a world where a great deal of what is being produced is essentially paint-by-number, technical illustration…or in your words, “Design turned up to 11.”? Should artists today get back to a more grassroots approach where mistakes can be gifts or are we headed in a direction where exhibitions of large scale vector art will be hanging on the walls of MoMA?
I think everything will be hanging on walls of the MoMA! All kinds of stuff that maybe should not be there but we have to go through to get the other side. Art history is dead which is why Gregg and me created our 'movements' (Super Comicism, Post-Pop Expressionism and Pop Realism.) They really can't exist but somehow do. We think it's funny to say you are part of an art movement instead of denying it profusely like most artists have historically done. Also, it we are both throw backs to the days when you said art you meant painting. Rough, hand-made art is selling well but it most often it is too raw for the Juxtapoz crowd (think Robert Williams constant praise of 'craft' coming back to painting.) The dull, cold-perfection of the computer will keep the loose-by-hand approach alive and growing in the coming decades. At least that is my take.
BBG has enjoyed much success and notoriety over the last five years. What’s the plan for the future of BBG? Will we be seeing an expansion in the style of artists shown? An increase of promotion via gallery exposure?
We have talked about doing a brick and mortar show but nothing in the works right. We will leave that to the brick and mortar spaces. We plan to keep doing what we have been doing, bringing more artists on board and continuing to exhibit and support our Gallery of Greatness artists. We do have plans for a coffee table book but no hurry. Everything is pretty cool as it is.