James Mullen


Composites : Painting Through Photography


Composite: (noun) – a complex material in which two or more distinct structurally complementary substances combine to produce structural or functional properties not present in any individual component

 This  series of works  examines the relationship between painting and photography. These pieces focus upon the intersection between two robust and complex visual languages, and how they influence the way we see the world.

 My previous work in painting has always maintained an interest in transitional zones. This has included the investigation of the inter-coastal landscape, exploring the areas where human intervention transforms the natural environment, and even transitional times of day. I am drawn to moments where identities are in flux, and are being constantly redefined.

 This has informed this current work as I explore the relationship between painting and photography, and seek to deconstruct that unproductive dichotomy. These two media have always been in a pas de deux that has greatly influenced their respective developments, and I find the terrain of their intersection exciting, complex, and provocative.

 The hydraulic nature of this investigation poses many questions about value, labor, perception, and even what is real? What are some of our assumptions about the photographic image as compared to the painted one? How does the process of photographing a painting (Haberle Selfie), or painting a photograph (Acadia Reflection Case) influence how we think about those images?

 I am also interested in what constitutes what we consider “natural” or “manipulated” in our environment. In Spiral Jetty the famous earthwork is painted above a mineral display at the Museum of Natural History in New York, also arranged in a spiral formation. They are macro and micro examples of a manipulated landscape arranged in the elemental form of nature’s spiral. The painted image parallels the laborious construction of its source image, while the camera creates an undiscriminating inventory of the other.

 New technological advances have continued to blur the distinctions between these media, and with the advent of the digital image in photography, manipulation software like Photoshop challenges the notion of truth and authority on an unprecedented scale. Recently the ability to print these images onto canvas supports has allowed anyone to shoot a photograph with their phone, and within a week have it printed on canvas and hanging on their wall. The physical print competes with the painted canvas with all of its attending associations.

 This body of work offers up more questions than answers about these ideas, but some of those questions are at the core of how we see, and subsequently understand, our world. As the cascade of images we are exposed to each day continues to proliferate, these questions will likely only grow more complex.