The exhibition Lee Mullican: Cosmic Theater explores the late artist’s sustained interest in the universe as source material for his creative voice. Mullican was a seeker and tirelessly pursued a form of abstraction that connected nature and spirituality. Pulling from a wide range of influences he created works that found new meanings through formal explorations of composition, color, and mark making. In his conversation with Joanne Phillips from 1976, he recalled the push and pull between abstraction in the purest sense and what he explained as his “need for some kind of image.” Through a close examination of his paintings and drawings we begin to understand that these patterns, shapes, and figure-like forms reflect his deep and abiding interest in the cosmos. Mullican’s enduring quest was to create through his art a new perspective. In his richly textured world, the bird’s eye and the mind’s eye are one, with outer space and inner space conflating and commingling on the striated surfaces of the picture plane.
The exhibition is curated by Michael Auping, who first met the artist in the early 1970s. They shared a fascination and knowledge of pre-Columbian and Native American art and mythology. Their long discussions often involved the melding of modern and ancient art. Carl Gustav Jung’s idea of a “collective unconscious” found its way into the conversations, a shared belief that connections can exist between vast distances in time and space.
The paintings and drawings chosen for the exhibition, some being shown for the first time, map a revealing path through much of Mullican’s career, ending with paintings from his last series, The Guardians. Bringing together work spanning fifty years, the exhibition surveys key themes running through the artist’s career, framing his unusual hybridization of symbolic figuration, abstracted landscapes, and abstract space with his long-time fascination with the sky and the galaxy beyond.
Words and images via James Cohan Gallery