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Adventures in a Temperate Climate: A Retrospective of Paintings by Martin Mull

October 28, 2006 - January 21, 2007


The Figge Art Museum presents "Adventures in a Temperate Climate: A Retrospective of Paintings by Martin Mull" through January 21, 2007. The exhibition features 40 paintings by Martin Mull, dating from 1984 to 2006, including oil paintings on linen and oil paintings on canvas.

Mull's paintings are deeply rooted in American nostalgia, drawing inspiration from his upbringing on a western Ohio farm in the 1940s and 1950s. Mull bases his paintings on photographs, advertisements, and television imagery from that period, evoking memories of growing up in a white middle-class neighborhood, while revealing disconcerting undercurrents in the pristine world found in the basic reader series "Fun with Dick and Jane" -- a world of post-war economic prosperity, tract houses, clearly-defined gender roles, the "red scare," the dark shadow of the nuclear bomb, and the promise of space exploration.

His imagery has evolved from early roots in pop art and photorealism to dripped surfaces and the hard-edged figures in his current work. His work, about a time and a culture he knows well, speaks to a generation that frequently longs for a "simpler time." Mull's question to us might be, "Was it indeed simpler?"

Best known as a comedian, Mull is first and foremost a painter who earned both his BFA and MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. His artwork is in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center, among many others. 

"Adventures in a Temperate Climate" explores the artist's recent work and his complex and ironic view of his Midwestern roots. In the accompanying catalogue, Glen Helfand describes Mull's new body of work as images that "tell the story of an American life, that of one child who was raised in a specific time and place. He lived in a Midwest informed by MGM's fantastical Kansas, one of many Hollywood-created landscapes filled with iconic visual and narrative elements aimed to convince an entire country that there's no place like a Caucasian middle class home."

The work is rendered in abstracted landscapes that contain realistic imagery of human figures and Americana motifs. Characters, often mimicking members of Mull's family, are shown as cartoon figures interacting with human beings styled in 1950s attire.The menacing figures are juxtaposed against suburban homes nestled among perfectly manicured greenery. The tension between the objects is further accentuated by the use of a darker palette and a broader application of pigment for shadowing.

"Mull's works focus on a critique of Modern culture. They have received substantial and positive attention from critics in recent years," says Libby Lumpkin, director of the Las Vegas Art Museum. "The exhibition also surveys the changes in style that have taken place in Mull's work over a period of more than 20 years."

Mull was born in Chicago, and was raised on a farm in western Ohio. He earned a Master of Fine Arts degree at the Rhode Island School of Design in the late 1960s. His works are included in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles; The Total Museum of Art in Seoul, South Korea; and other institutions in the United States and abroad. Mull lives and works in Los Angeles.

The exhibition is co-organized by Lumpkin, director of the Las Vegas Art Museum and also director of Design Discourse, International Institute of Modern Letters, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; and Tina Yapelli, director of The University Art Gallery at San Diego State University. Works in the exhibition are on loan from institutions, galleries and private collections. The exhibition is made possible by generous donations from The Joyce Mack Exhibitions Fund, The James and Michelle Zeiter Exhibitions Fund, the LVAM Members' Fund, and anonymous donors. 

A schedule of lectures, tours and programs related to this exhibition, including hands-on learning activities for children, will be posted on the museum's Web site.


(above: Martin Mull, Parents, 2003, oil on linen, 60 x 72 inches)


(above: Martin Mull, Fully Dressed Woman Descending a Staircase, 2004)


(above: Martin Mull, Home School Prom, 2005)


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