Through a close exploration of nature and the prehistoric past, Mullican focused on finding new meanings through formal problems of composition, color and mark making. He created a unique method of applying paint to the canvas with the thin edge of a printer’s knife, building up the surface with textured, fine lines--a technique he referred to as striation. This signature mark-making “excited the surface’” and the paintings seemed to “vibrate into being.” The high-keyed yellows in many conjure up the golden lights of a radiating cosmos, while in others the deep reds, violets and browns form mystic mountains inspired by “walks in landscapes that appeared from the depths of the mind.”
Always a seeker, Mullican culled influences from a wide range including his job as a topographer during WWII from which he developed the mapmaker’s bird’s-eye perspective, to Surrealism’s automatism, to Zen Buddhism and later from his studies of the tantric art of India, finding a kinship with the conflation of concepts of outer and inner-space.
Lee Mullican was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1919 and died in Los Angeles in 1998. He attended the Kansas City Art Institute after transferring from the University of Oklahoma in 1941. Upon his graduation from the Institute in 1942, Mullican was drafted into the army, serving for four years as a topographical draughtsman. Mullican traveled to Hawaii, Guam and Japan before ending his tenure in the army in 1946, when he moved to San Francisco. After winning a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959, he spent a year painting in Rome before returning to Los Angeles where he joined the teaching staff of the UCLA Art Department in 1961, keeping his position for nearly 30 years. He divided the later part of his life between his homes in Los Angeles and Taos, traveling internationally and co- organizing exhibitions at UCLA. Mullican’s works are included in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as in numerous other institutions.
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