Carter Mull, ;a)5516, \a)142, /a)13&3
October 14 - December 1
Portland is awash in quirky, independent art spaces tucked into backrooms, storefronts and garages, yet Private Places stands out for the subtleness of its voice—quietly amassing a dedicated following while mounting show after show that seems specifically selected to oppose the marked anti intellectualism of the region. Helmed by the indomitable Bobbi Woods, Private Places has shown a devotion to artwork driven by a rampant curiosity, favoring projects that pose layers of questions, swirling through concerns both material and cerebral. Private Places, with its sensuous pink walls, has positioned itself as a place for poetics, the contemplation of nuance, and wanton exploration. It makes sense that Woods would collaborate with Carter Mull on a presentation of his new books that draw from the genres of fashion, conceptual art, book arts, painting, photography, sculpture, and advertising. Each book is an elaborately designed set of instructions for making a painting. To “read” the book would also involve gathering supplies and applying paint. Private Places itself was transformed into a seamless combination of bookstore and painting exhibition, allowing cloth bound boards to carry the same weight as the 62 inch x 39 inch paintings that Mull executed directly onto the gallery walls.
There are three books in the exhibition which all share similar features. Each is designed as a portfolio containing one sheet of paper and a sheet of vinyl. The cases stand open on a table, the cloth covers, printed with a pattern unique to that title, are turned to the back of the room. The endpapers, standing vertically and facing front, are on most prominent display, while the entire two-page contents of each book rest flat on the surface of the table. Of the unbound pages, one is a photographic, adhesive-backed vinyl and the other is a playfully oblique statement about the social condition of painting prefacing a set of instructions guiding completion of a Mull-designed mural.
On the walls surrounding this sculptural display are four paintings, three of which follow the instructions as they appear in the books. The fourth responds to a new set of unwritten rules. It clearly uses the pattern template supplied with Paintings (:a)5516), however it deviates from those instructions, introducing new colors, and omitting the vinyl print that is affixed to the upper left corner of the other pieces. It would have seemed redundant to paint on the gallery walls when a sample image of each painting is included, as an endpaper, within each book. Their purpose, however, becomes more clear in relation to the irreverent fourth piece. Mull is embracing a history of work executed by instruction, yet the inclusion of a derivative piece offers a sense that Mull sees the books as part of a pedagogical process, differentiating himself within this lineage. There is a genuine confidence in the addictive nature of painting; guiding a participant/viewer/collector through just one painting will create a persistent desire to paint. Mull seems to want to transfer the authority of the artist to the participant/viewer/collector. This is not necessarily the case with other artists whose work is completed according to written instructions. Sol Lewitt’s instructions might offer a certain freedom to the technician, allowing a preparator to determine where random points might be placed on the wall, but ultimately they are merely executing Lewitt’s plan. With Fluxus scores, the participant who performs the work might experience a particular sensation, but transcendence is both limited and fleeting. Mull demonstrates a much greater generosity, offering as a work of art the obsessive pleasure of painting, both verb and noun.
Mull’s process is expansive and convoluted. In his text, he seems to see painting everywhere, right down to the glazing of pastry—if there is a change of color affected by human activity, it’s painting. However, a major part of the exhibition involves more or less photographic material printed on the adhesive pages included with each book. These images tread toward advertising imagery, though they do not offer a specific product to sell. The vinyl for Paintings (\a)142) offers a black and white image of Mull’s studio building located in LA’s Fashion District. The windows are partially obscured with montaged images of paintings, while a lowercase A, digitally processed to provide a sense of depth, has been placed in the upper left corner of the page. The image accompanying Paintings (/a)13&3) presents a tacky ceramic leopard with its color in negative, partially obscured by a lowercase letter A that has been digitally manipulated to appear glowing, placed in the center of the page. Paintings (:a)5516) offers an image of a young female model with corny USA sunglasses propped atop her forehead and pastel color streaking her face, posing with her iPhone. This photograph was likely taken in a previous exhibition of similar material. While in Portland, Mull photographed a male model, with stripes of color painted on his face, posing within this exhibition. This self referencing combined with Mull’s aesthetic promiscuity establishes a practice that is as much palimpsest as it is gyre.
The irrepressible quality of the work, the painting of figures in unnatural colors, the sense that anything and everything can be made into painting recalls the work of the International Transavantgarde, while Mull has expressed an interest in the flaneur. In this combination of thoughts, Mull hits upon the remarkably unexplored relationship between the flaneur and schizoanalysis. The flaneur, as originated in Poe’s Man of the Crowd, offers a preternatural drive to consume the variety of sights offered by city life; the man of the crowd draws his very sustenance from observation. The International Transavantgarde was very conscious in their quoting of Deleuze, who had his patients walk through the city interacting with objects without regard to use value, understanding the world beyond the constraints of capitalism. This process of wandering and collecting without aim is at least formally similar to the random walks of the flaneur. Each offers a poetics of observation divorced from function, and the twining of these traditions seems central to Mull’s practice.
Mull became known for work that discussed obsolete media, prophetically using the image of the New York Times years before its overshadowing by fake and patently biased news sources became a national scandal. Mull now seems to want to take on the ubiquity of imagery: everything is painting and if it’s not painting it’s fashion, which can also be a form of painting. There is nothing that cannot be recycled within a practice that is ever expanding, yet simultaneously ouroboric. The rules are subject to whim, and there is no hierarchy, save that the paintings can only be completed if one purchases a rather expensive limited edition book, priced in euros no less.
2400 NE Holladay St.
Portland, OR 97232