(Falmouth, Maine) Commemorating the 20th anniversary of 9/11, Moss Galleries will premier paintings by contemporary abstract painter Michael Mulhern (1940-2012). On view September 10 through October 23, 2021, A Phoenix from the Ashes features 20 paintings spanning the artist’s lifetime including the whimsical, colorful paintings from his Ampersand series and the premonitory Ash Road series.
“When I first realized these paintings held the ash of 9/11, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about them,” said Gallery Owner and Director, Elizabeth Moss. “There is an energy that comes from them. One has the feeling of reverence and honor in their observation. They are tangible and evidentiary reminders of the assault against our nation. The sheer fact that they exist may serve as necessary evidence to future generations.”
On the morning of September 11, 2001, artist Michael Mulhern was working on a decade-long series of paintings titled "Ash Road" in his ninth-floor studio apartment near the Twin Towers. He watched as the planes struck the buildings and witnessed their collapse. The impact of the collapse shattered his apartment windows, and glass, smoke, and debris filled his room. He escaped and returned weeks later to find that his apartment was destroyed and full of debris. With the help of his gallery, CYNTHIA-REEVES, he was able to salvage 150 canvases from his studio by vacuuming the dust and wiping them down with turpentine solution.
Distraught by the events, Mulhern turned to his work for solace. The Ash Road series that Mulhern had been working on took on a whole new significance as he observed his studio caked in dust and ash. Mulhern chose to incorporate the contaminated paint from his studio into the Ash Road series for both its texture and symbolism. The paintings seemingly absorbed his own experience of personal turmoil and dislocation. Mulhern painted the canvases on the floor by pouring the dust-filled black, white, gray, and aluminum paint onto the work, in the fashion of Jackson Pollock. Mulhern discussing the influence of the Twin Towers on his artwork by stating, “I live amongst these structures. How could I not be influenced?”
Karen Wilkin, art critic for the Wall Street Journal, wrote: “… despite the gritty beauty of his pictures and despite their sensuous painterliness, Mulhern's blanketing grays have still other connotations for anyone who saw the smothering layers of grey debris in Lower Manhattan after September 11th, which includes the artist himself. … they are richly associative is undeniable, but it is their raw, physical "abstractness" that carries these associations, the nuances of color and surface, the shifts of gesture and line, and the adjustments of interval and density that engage your eye and allow, mysteriously, a wealth of wordless ideas to assert themselves.”
For almost the entire span of his 40-year career, Mulhern explored the gray color field and its tonalities by using aluminum paint. Despite the monochromatic palette of his work, the paintings give off tremendous power and potency. Mulhern once said he was influenced by Jackson Pollock primarily because he drew directly with paint and Henri Matisse for the structure of his paintings and his willingness to take risks.
Recently discovered in a storage unit in Maine by artist Richard J. Keen III and Elizabeth Moss, many of these works in the exhibition have never been seen publicly.
About Michael Mulhern
A native of Paisley, Scotland, Michael Mulhern (1940-2012) was based in New York where he maintained a studio for more than 40 years before moving to Falmouth, Maine in his last years to be closer to family. His career was largely celebrated in his adopted city with groundbreaking exhibitions at The Drawing Center, (1988), Artspace, (1992), and The Painting Center, (1993), among others. A recipient of The National Endowment of the Arts in painting, along with a Pollack-Krasner grant in the late 1980s, Mulhern’s exhibitions were featured in The New York Times, The Partisan Review, Art News and Artspeak. The National September 11th Memorial and Museum in New York has two of Mulhern’s works in their permanent collection. Mulhern was represented early in his career by the Rosenberg Kaufman and Stephen Haller Galleries, and for the past 20 years by CYNTHIA-REEVES, which exclusively handles his estate.