Martin Mull Witnesses the “Madness”

Martin Mull Witnesses the “Madness”

More people know Martin Mull 65 PT/MFA 67 from TV and the movies than from visiting galleries and museums. But that has less to do with his talents as an artist, actor and comedian than with the predictability of popular culture.

Mull has appeared in dozens of feature films – Killers, Relative Strangers, Mrs. Doubtfire, Clue, Mr. Mom – and scores of TV shows – from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman and Fernwood 2-Night in the 1970s, to Roseanne and Sabrina, the Teenage Witch in the ‘90s, to Reba, The Ellen Show and Two and a Half Men more recently. But though he stumbled into acting as a more lucrative profession than painting, he never really stopped making art. In fact, he has always said that painting is his first love and in the last decade in particular, has immersed himself in his true passion while doing the “show business stuff” on the side.

In Witness, his most recent solo show at Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago, Mull has not fully returned to the “eyeball-burning genre” of photorealism that characterized his early years as a painter. Instead, he’s interested in creating the “look and feel of photography,” while incorporating “painterly aspects” like brushstrokes and surreal juxtapositions. In his new body of work, he presents slightly twisted figurative vignettes drawn from his memories of childhood.

“There was a whole America that I grew up in [in the 1950s and ’60s] that has kind of taken a hike,” Mull explains in a TV interview on Chicago Tonight. “The world has changed in so many ways, and this country has changed in so many ways, I feel compelled to lay down this madness that I was raised in – the idea of suburban America as this kind of picture-perfect thing. Of course, it wasn’t. It wasn’t all Ozzie and Harriet.”

With titles like Neverland, Split Level and Crotch, Mull’s latest series of evocative oil on linen paintings prove to be both humorous and unsettling at the same time, revealing a much lionized period in American culture when – not unlike today – appearance belied reality. In addition to Carl Hammer, he’s represented by Beitzel Gallery in New York, Rena Branstein in San Francisco and Samuel Freeman in LA. Mull’s work is included in numerous private collections, along with the permanent collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Columbus [OH] Museum of Fine Arts and Total Contemporary Art Museum in Seoul, Korea, among others.

MARTIN MULL: Witness is on view at the Carl Hammer Gallery in Chicago from October 29–December 31, 2010.

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