By Nicola Maule
There may be more than a few scenes recognisable to many Glaswegians when looking at the paintings of artist, Michael E. Mullen. From the flourishing of Spring and the cherry blossoms lining the streets towards Knightswood Cross, to that wonderful quality of stillness found in the magical light after the sun sets, ‘the gloaming’ as us Scots call it, in the heart of Queens Park.
Both these pictures, ‘Cherry Blossom, Knightswood Cross’ and ‘Spring Gloaming, Queens Park,’ are part of a rich bounty of painted works, expressing a great love of the outdoors not just here in Scotland but in lands beyond our shores – and an appreciation of the natural, visible changes of time that the eye often overlooks at a fleeting glance.
There is a rather nostalgic air to the paintings, a poetic, dreamlike quality. I can also imagine that if I might see these works in front of me on the gallery wall, it would echo what I am compelled to do when looking at artwork by my favourite Impressionist painter, Camille Pissarro (1830-1903). Stand close to the surface of the work, ‘The Rance at Dinan,’ and the painting would look busy, with sharp thick flecks of paint applied with apparent vigour – stand back and as the scene unfolds, the eye oscillates between both the light reflecting on the leaves and the still water of this French river, and the rich colours of green that call of Summer.
I chatted with Michael about his journey towards a career in the arts, his enchantment with the wonders of nature and just how much that contemplation can draw inspiration and influence his painting.
You currently live and work in Glasgow – did you grow up in the city and what brought you to painting?
I grew up in Giffnock and was educated in Glasgow. When I left school, I started studying an engineering degree at Glasgow University, but fairly quickly came to the conclusion that it wasn’t what I wanted to do and decided to return to my first love, which was Art.
The reasons behind moving to London were varied: I was of an age where I wanted to explore the world a bit, I had got accepted onto a foundation course, in Art and Design at Wimbledon School of Art, and I had a perhaps rather naïve conviction that London was the place to be, if you wanted to work in the Arts. After finishing my foundation course, I started a degree course at Goldsmiths, which I had chosen because they didn’t demand that you follow one particular discipline, like painting or sculpture, or printmaking. I liked to work in all three disciplines and going to Goldsmiths allowed me to do that. In the end I didn’t particularly enjoy my time there, even though it was, and I suppose still is considered a very prestigious art school. There was a dominant, conceptual art culture that was quite alien to my way of thinking and working.
Your pictures are in the main exterior scenes, some such as ‘Glen Quiach’ where the expanse of the hills are offered as a subject and others placed in a city or a suburban setting. Do you work directly outdoors when painting?
I do sometimes work outdoors, although this very much depends on the weather and I rarely complete a work outdoors, although it was the kind of thing I did when I was younger. Most of my finished pieces are entirely created in the studio. I work from a variety of sources, often using my camera and sketchpad as a way of recording images I think might work for me. Over the years these sketches and photographs have grown into a reservoir of images that I can dip into, sometimes long after making the original sketch, or taking a set of photographs. I also combine aspects of different images in order to convey the effect I want – sometimes that happens quite quickly and easily, other times ideas hang around for years, going through numerous, sketched iterations, whilst I vacillate about whether to commit to turning them into a finished piece.
What inspires you to paint a particular view?
There is a complex calculus that leads me to pick one image over another: a combination of formal, technical challenge, a kind of personal symbolic significance and the latitude it allows me to express emotion or convey a particular kind of mood. In practice, once I’ve decided which image feels right, everything else begins to fall into place during the painting. Personally, I think that there is a partially unconscious process that governs the process of composing an image, as the same themes and motifs suggest themselves regularly.
You work on linen which, through its highly textured surface almost becomes an integral part of the work itself – is there a reason why you paint on linen, over board or canvas?
I think it’s the best surface for oil painting – it’s very durable, has an element of elasticity that is useful and has a texture that is pleasant to work on. I have worked on both canvas and board in the past, but I feel linen suits my style best and will probably last longest.
The offerings of the seasons permeate through your work – what draws you to paint these changes in nature?
One of the things that drives my work, is my reaction to my day-to-day environment: I find it easy to derive pleasure from my experience of nature and my work reflects a desire to celebrate nature and how the environment and changes in light, weather and flora affects us more generally. The effects of seasonal change on the environment, therefore, fascinates me, I would go so far as to say that the seasons influence the behaviour of people and society, in quite profound ways, beyond the traditional divisions of the agricultural year.
Can you share the best way for people to view and purchase your pictures?
I usually have work on display at the Seagull Gallery in Gourock, most of my new work gets exhibited there first. Probably the best way to keep up with developments regarding exhibitions would be to follow my Facebook page, Michael E Mullen Fine Art. I post any news about exhibitions on there and I also post pictures of my work, as it’s completed. I also have a page on www.creativecoverage.co.uk and work for sale at www.saatchiart.com