Conversation between Bridget Mullen and Christopher Kane Taylor on Bridget’s upcoming show at Satellite Contemporary, Las Vegas.
CKT: You have had an interesting last couple of years creating work in very different locations...In Provincetown, Massachusetts at FAWC and now in Roswell, New Mexico at the Roswell Artist Residency Program. What did you "get" from working in these places? How was it similar or different?
BM: For the past 12 years I’ve changed studios every two years. I see moving as an opportunity to take stock of where I am in my work and then try to forget the work I’ve made. It’s a chance to make something unexpected and unforeseen. I know that my work changes when I move to a new studio, and I suspect that the spirit of the place surrounding my studio creeps into the content.
Provincetown is a tiny town at the very end of a narrow peninsula. You can stand on the massive dunes and see the bay on one side and the ocean on the other. It’s uniquely beautiful. It snowed A LOT while I was there. One painting I made while there did depict snow, but in general I think the weather affected my work in less literal ways. A number of my paintings depicted objects of similar shape and size floating in space, but if anything, the constant falling snow inspired the concept of repetition. Painting an image over and over became a way to get to know my subject matter.
Right after the residency in Provincetown, I went to a residency in Roswell, New Mexico (where I’ll be until May of 2016.) Roswell is Provincetown’s opposite— it’s full of strip malls, kitschy alien culture, and outside the city, dry, flat land as far as the eye can see. Also, it’s virtually silent, with the exception of the one similarity between Roswell and Provincetown— in both places you can hear the bizarre chirping of foxes in the middle of the night! My studio in Roswell is directly connected to my house and apart from the other residents. This self-contained isolation has allowed me to experiment wildly and aimlessly and without judgement. I have the feeling that no one will ever see the things I make, which has resulted in baffling and slightly embarrassing paintings. The silence has inspired me to work in silence— causing me to be more aware of shifts in thought, knee-jerk reactions, and mood changes during my process.
CKT: Slightly embarrassing paintings and silence. I can't wait! How do you feel now with a new body of work completed and showing this new work? Where does this idea of slightly embarrassed begin and end? In the making of the work or in the showing?
BM: I had a show in January at the Roswell Museum and Art Center of the work I’ve made while in Roswell. I didn’t feel embarrassed about showing it, but I did feel a bit embarrassed when I was making it. I think I was just surprised by the characters when they were coming into being. My work has always been autobiographical, but my ideas usually spoke through characters that in no way resembled me. This body of work is still cartoonish and abstract, but the female figure is obvious and more defined, with titles such as, “Self Portrait Washing Brushes”, “Self Portrait Just After Washing Brushes”, and “Self Portrait Thinking About Washing Brushes”. I’ve had some time to look at the work, write about it, and let it seep in. I still don’t entirely know what the work is about. My sense is that it’s tempered with the anxiety of knowing the present moment isn’t the future anymore and it’s quickly becoming the past. It still feels like the work is unfolding.
CKT: Yes. The body and the present moment. The corporal sensuality of these paintings are a celebration of life and being alive right now....Hopeful. The physicality and story places your thoughts in-time. I am so into your painting "Nature's Promise", it works on so many different levels. I love how you Brancusi the sand clocks as a frame....So smart and fun!
BM: Brancusi as a verb— that’s so smart and fun! I don’t start with sketches or an idea. I start with the painting surface and the paint and start moving the brush without intent to create specific images. I then free-associate what the shapes could be and start to pull out images. I have a cast of characters— images that tend to show up again and again throughout my work: sultry pedestrians from street signs, screws, deliberately painted paint drips and incidental paint drips, all- seeing eyes, things that are even remotely spherical turned into exaggerated spheres, hourglasses/bow ties, paintbrushes, vessels, and my own disembodied, cartoonish head. These images are recognizable but they don’t always add up to a narrative. My paintings are composed within the constructs of language—I use pattern and repetition, alternate between absurd and earnest images, and continually revisit the same themes—but I resist the urge to completely define the content. There is a danger in reducing images to language: the meaning gets lost in the translation and it doesn’t reflect how enigmatic reality actually is.
Attending residencies has contributed to the seamlessness between my daily life and my art. The content of my work has always included the nature of my process, but now my work seems to also be about the nature of my thought patterns. There’s a kind of meditation where you let thoughts come into your head and watch them float off as another thought enters. There’s no wrong way of thinking, and each thought no matter how monumental or trivial says something important about you. While in Roswell, I became acutely aware of how important my body is. Just turning my head an inch, makes me look out the window, and then all my thoughts are towards the earth and the people I know and don’t know but wonder about. I realized that sitting in a chair and thinking seems to perpetuate more sitting in the chair and thinking and less physical painting. Neither is of greater importance, it’s just a reminder that my body is at the center of my pursuit. I’m also very aware that at some point my body will begin the shutting down process, I suppose it already has. I work in an unpremeditated way, not knowing what I’m going to make before I begin, to acknowledge the natural unease I feel that’s caused by being in a constant state of change. I’m aware that my present self is always becoming part of the past and that I have to rely on language because my thoughts define my reality. I think my work embodies these restraints to acknowledge the eventual absence of everything that I presently cling to for comfort— including, and especially, meaning. Having an unpremeditated process and avoiding concrete narratives is my way of locating myself, of owning the anxiety of being alive.
CKT: You spoke about working in silence. What else do you need in a space to create...no matter where you are? Do you have a book you go back to...an object you have carried with you though-out the years?
BM: Great question. I need to be able to make a mess. I don’t like thinking about upsetting someone else's space when I work because that consideration inhibits my motions. I want the paint to be as pervasive as air. Like air, paint isn’t just on a surface. Paint has to get from the tube to the palette to the brush to the surface of the painting and then inevitably it gets on me. It just feels right to work that way, as if the painting is a part of the whole activity of life.
I do carry certain objects with me: my cat’s whiskers, my Mom’s earrings, a little rock I painted to look like a shoe, a carved santa figurine, a woven pouch my friend made. These things are with me now and have been each time I moved. Some of these objects are important as placeholders for memories of people and animals I love, and some are like the last random objects left in the house when you are just about done moving— they’re their circumstantially, but they start to tell a story when isolated from their histories.
CKT: If you could make a painting in conversation with any painting anywhere in the world and show you painting next to it that painting; what would it be?
BM: I have a hard time thinking I could make a painting that was in conversation with another painting. I think maybe my sculptural work could occupy space with another sculpture because as objects they share air, but paintings seem to be these isolated experiences encapsulating their own entire worlds. My immediate response to your question was to think of my favorite artists, Agnes Martin and Philip Guston, but I would be too preoccupied with their work to make my own. It would just feel clever to be trying to interact with whatever it is I think they are doing in their work. That said, I do love thinking about how my work could benefit from being next to another artist’s work. How would my work change by inhabiting a space where Tino Seghal (an artist who focuses on the fleeting gestures and social subtleties of lived experience rather than on material objects) staged a performance? Or how would experiencing my work change when it’s next to some really unusual rocks?
CKT: Well I can’t wait to have your work in our gallery in Las Vegas and see you and you with your work! Thanks Bridget, see you soon!