Emily Mullin on creating ceramic sculptures with her husband
Teaming up with her husband for a new show ‘Get a Room’, ceramic artist and sculptor Emily Mullin celebrates collage, collaboration and the beauty of imperfection
While many couples would countersign to how the pandemic has tested the limits of their relationship, the Brooklyn-based ceramic artist and sculptor Emily Mullin instead chose to work with her husband, Tony Mullin, to produce her latest body of work, on view until 8 May at Jack Hanley Gallery in Manhattan. Entitled ‘Get a Room’, Mullin’s second solo exhibition at the space blurs the lines between sculpture, painting and collage with Mullin not only creating the vessels on display, but also the wall-bound reliefs and free-standing sculptural displays that frame each piece.
‘The show title is a cheeky nod to the romance of [the collaborative] process [with my husband]. We share a studio and plagiarise each other’s palettes and forms constantly – is that collaborating? I don’t know,’ Mullin jokes. ‘We spent so much time looking at images from places we have travelled, pieces from art collections we love, talking about architectural spaces- be that gallery spaces or domestic ones. These works let us imagine things we would want to live within a dream house we don’t own. "Get a Room" also speaks to how one displays art, and how one lives with art.’
Inspired by the exhibition designs of the Italian architect Franco Albini and curator Caterina Marcenaro from the 1950s, whose emphasis on lightness and atmosphere redefined how to frame works in architectural spaces, Mullin’s intentionally two-dimensional displays – large scale CNC folded tables and plinths – are based on small, hand-cut paper maquettes which she and her husband composed together.
‘I love collage, Matisse and things that are less than perfect’
‘The sculptural steel displays are fabricated using industrial processes which are generally so exacting. It’s been fun to throw a spanner in the works and deliberately replicate rough, hand-cut, folded paper shapes using steel and a CNC press,’ she explains. ‘I build the vessels, similarly by taking flat slabs of clay and cutting out shapes and joining various pieces together. The push and pull on pictorial space in paintings when areas get flattened out is something I like to think about. I’m also interested in what happens when someone takes a photo of these dimensional works, and how everything transitions back to a 2D plane. I love collage, Matisse and things that are less than perfect.’
Retaining that paper cut-out quality on purpose, the displays add tongue-in-cheek humour to Mullin’s decorative, sculptural ceramic vessels, which are typically inspired by ‘costuming and embellishment – Grace Jones’ wardrobe, Sonia Delaunay’s stage costumes, Edo period Kimonos, Erte fashion illustrations, West Indian carnival costumes, pre-Columbian jewellery, Sardinian ceramics from the ‘50s... I could go on and on,’ she says. ‘I like to keep the surface of the vessels connected to motifs from abstract painting- whether that’s with the washy wild effects of a raku-fired glaze, or through repeated mark-making and patternation.’
Emphasised by a colour palette that draws from Mullin’s childhood growing up in Los Angeles in the ‘90s, the show’s innate vibrancy is further enhanced by fresh floral arrangements that fill each vessel to quite literally breathe life into the display.
‘Theatricality and staging are important to me,’ she concludes. ’I like to think about the construction of images, framing devices, and the language of worship and desire. I’ve always thought of the works as altars that uplift the vessels and the floral elements that adorn them. There are all sorts of art historical and visual references in there, but fundamentally these pieces are a celebration of handmade objects and the natural world.’ §