Florence Ritter, The Cultural Expose : Martin Mull
Something You Should See… Martin Mull: Leap of Faith
By Florence Ritter
December 11, 2012
Showing at Ben Brown Fine Arts is an exhibition of photorealist oil paintings by LA-based artist Martin Mull, which offers a satirical look at American suburban life.
Mull has pursued various careers, in stand-up comedy, music, film and TV, but he has an extraordinary natural talent as a painter. Using a palette of muted browns, greys and greens, Mull combines and layers imagery from different, unidentified sources, managing to create a cut-and-paste photomontage effect in oils. The scenes are dreamlike in their fragmentation, with glossy surface planes that are as impenetrably two-dimensional as old photographs.
Of course, the appropriation of the photographic aesthetic in painting is nothing new, and Mull’s endeavours fit into a rich lineage of works including those by Gerhard Richter and Chuck Close. However, Mull’s paintings are enriched with further historical referents. The paintings’ articulation of a specifically suburban emptiness and loneliness gives more than a nod to Edward Hopper, whilst Mull’s smooth treatment of paint and the filmic unreality of his compositions suggest stylistic influence from French Nouveau Realiste Jacques Monory. There is even a tongue-in-cheek reference by Mull to Picasso’s Demoiselles d’Avignon in his almost-eponymous portrait of four middle-aged (and fully dressed) women gazing at us from a white-decked porch in Akron, Ohio. In another work a woman grins out at us inanely, kicking out a shiny nyloned leg from her white garden chair, her clownish smile as circus-like as the tumbling gymnasts behind her. Some of the works on show are sad, some funny, some absurd to the point of critical in their portrayals of the promises of commercial culture.
Okay, so about that TV career…Martin Mull was Vice Principal Mr Kraft in Sabrina the Teenage Witch. I struggled with whether to mention this but decided that it just cannot go unmentioned. I know it will now be an effort to quash memories of Hilda, Zelda, Harvey and Salem whilst looking at this collection of melancholy and sardonic paintings, but make that effort: after all, John Lennon went to art college; Winston Churchill produced some striking landscape paintings; even Marilyn Manson has dabbled in watercolours (albeit with questionable results) – people do different things, so Mull’s slickly executed, thought-provoking paintings are well worth seeing. (Words: Florence Ritter)