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Six of the Best, Part 33: Judith Mullen

The latest installment in an interview series for which I pose the same six questions to artists of various species. Judith Mullen is a mixed-media artist working in Chicago, in a bright studio building that I visited for the first time recently. Her spellbinding, densely-layered, multi-textured work will be on show in 2014 at Chicago's prestigious Linda Warren Projects.

Forest Floor Relief VIII
PH: What medium/media do you chiefly use, and why?

JM: I consider myself a mixed media artist and within that I do work with a broad range of materials. I started out working mainly as a painter using traditional painting media and supports. As my interest broadened to three-dimensional work, I found myself experimenting with fabric, tree limbs, paper and more. Rather than having a prescribed list of materials needed to work on a piece, I found myself playing around with various media, which allows me to work in a more open, experimental way. I still find this way of working very satisfying.

PH: What piece are you currently working on?

JM: My latest work has evolved out a desire to make work off the stretcher/panel that lies somewhere in between a traditional painting and what might be called a wall relief piece. I've been playing around with the oval shape for the past few years as a starting point and it appears to be moving into the idea of head/body imagery. I am also working with the idea of  having the work be modular, movable pieces. The materials I've used so far include distressed tracing paper, canvas, fabric, plaster, saw dust, resin and enamel, tree branches, and yarn.

Afoot II

PH: What creative surprises are happening in the current work?

JM: Actually, I find that I am surprised a lot of the time. But in the current work I was very surprised to be able to work with tracing paper in an agressive, gritty way. I began using tracing paper about ten years ago when I started to work on fresco panels. The tracing paper was first incised with various forms/shapes and then laid upon the wet fresco plaster as a means of pushing charcoal through to create a light drawing for the future painting. So basically it was used as a stencil. I would re-use these paper stencil pieces several times and each time the paper began to take on a new dimension and shape that I found interesting. So, rather than throwing them out once I could no longer use them as a stencil, I saved them and have recently began using them in my new work (Afoot l and II) which really suprised me. It was one of those moments in the studio where I just married the paper stencil to work in progress and found it satisfying, because no pre-thought was involved. I have been wanting to work larger and off the structure of the canvas/board and believe this process is going to help further that goal. Currently I am working with various types of tracing paper and will be expanding and pushing the limits of this media with cutting into, painting on, sewing together and more. My goal is to create shadows of the new work adding another dimension to the piece.

PH: What other artistic medium or non artistic medium feeds your creative process?

JM: A very big part of my studio practice is walking every day in the forest near my home. The physical act of  walking, much like the act of making in the studio, serves to slow down my pace and engage in a different kind of journey. Outside of the studio I love to read and just finished rereading some of the old classics, such as Grapes of Wrath and Silas Marner. I find the characterizations in these novels to have very human qualities, and it reminds me how much things have changed but also how they have also stayed the same.

Forest Floor XVI

PH: What is the first every piece of art you remember making?

JM: I remember always being able to draw from memory, but I think I really felt I'd made a piece of art after making and embellishing my first snowman.  I believe I was 4 years old.  My parents had just bought our first home and I was sent outside to play in the snow, in the front of the house where they could see me. This was my first experience of having an entire front yard to play in, so I think it became my first canvas! After I had rolled the snow into three body parts, my dad came out to help stack them up and we adorned it with a carrot nose, button eyes and tree branches for arms. To this day I love finding new snowmen creations in my neighborhood.

PH: Finally, and you can answer this in any way that's meaningful to you:  why are you an artist?

JM: I'm fairly certain I was born to make things!

If you liked this interview, and you'd like to keep up to date with the series, why not Subscribe, or sign-up via Google Connect, using one of the options over on the right? Thanks, and keep creating.

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