Home Arts-Entertainment Things to do 'IDSCAPES AND ARGONAUTS' ARE EVOLVING ART



Not long ago a visitor to Mark Mulherrin's studio in a converted mill tucked away in the Berkshire town of North Adams, Mass., was looking at the long row of diminutive canvases leaning against the wall. The paintings were all finished, awaiting their placement in boxes to be shipped down to St. Croix.
Although each painting appeared to be done in a different style, they all seemed to depict a boat of some kind — a schooner, a Viking ship, a barque, a gondola. In some of them the water resembled the North Sea or Antarctica, while some bore a distinct resemblance to the Caribbean where the works were headed.
"These paintings aren't really about boats, are they?" the visitor asked. "No", said the painter. "They are about painting."
"Idscapes and Argonauts" is the ninth solo exhibition of Mulherrin's work to be seen on St. Croix, but it is the first he has had since moving off the island almost three years ago. For the last two years, in addition to painting in his own studio full time, he has been artist-in-residence and instructor of visual art at the Austen Riggs Center, a private psychiatric hospital in Stockbridge, Mass.
Being immersed for part of the week in the world of the center's patients, many of whom have spent a good part of their lives in various institutions, has had a growing and profound impact on the artist's relationship to his work.
Mulherrin is inspired by the intuitive freedom of his students and by their courage. He finds their sincerity and aesthetic honesty has had an influence on the way he thinks about painting now, about the reasons for doing it. Their example has allowed him the freedom to pursue a more "painterly" type of painting, branching out from the more technical or literary styles he has worked with in the past.
Most of the paintings in the show were begun in the Riggs studio, used as examples for his students to illustrate different techniques or approaches to painting. Later they were taken to his own studio to be completed. These two worlds, one private, one professional, which for a while had been kept quite separate, were beginning to become the same. The new paintings form a tentative record of that evolution.
The group of paintings called "Idscapes", a term the artist coined, are invented landscapes derived from random blurts and swipes of paint whose accidental results are then picked out and elaborated more consciously, creating little worlds of flora and fauna, architecture and figures.
The practice goes back to Leonardo da Vinci and even earlier, to the ancient Chinese landscape painters who used to dip the feet of chickens in pots of ink then let the birds run about on clean sheets of paper. On viewing the Idscapes, his students are often reminded of the Rorschach tests they must undergo, interpreting random patterns representationally.
"Argonauts" are the boat paintings mentioned earlier. They invoke a time when sailing was a form of space exploration, and sailors, both real and mythic, were the prototypical astronauts. The spirit of adventure alluded to by the presence of the boats is expressed in the various methods used to paint them: a wild assortment of styles and attitudes that the paint itself makes possible.
Together these two groups of work form the core of the show which will also include a large-scale painting completed two years ago and an installation created specifically for the St. Croix exhibit.
The opening reception is Friday, Feb. 22 from 5 p.m. until at Walsh Metal Works Gallery, 14AB Peter's Rest. The artist will be present and all are invited to attend.
The exhibit will hang through March 2. Gallery hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 773-8169 or 773-2595.


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