Image: New Snow on the Road Above Conway, watercolor on Arches Rough paper, 18x24, 2014
a retrospective on the art of
Opening reception and 70th birthday celebration
Thursday Aug. 3rd, 4:30 - 8:00pm
Closing reception and Gallery Talk
Wednesday Sept. 13th, 11:00 - 1:00pm
-Gallery talk begins at noon
Steven Mulak, alleged artist
Representational art, as I practice it, is an interpretation of subjects as diverse and familiar as late day shadows or an interesting abstract created by a random arrangement of chairs. It is the “found” aspect of beauty in everyday things that most appeals to the artist in me. My paintings and drawings endeavor to share the impact of a particular artistic moment with the viewer.
Creating a painting ought to be both art and craft: If you have only the craft without the art, the result is boring and predictable. If you have the art without the craft, nobody knows what the hell you’re talking about. In order to successfully translate a subject into a painted image, the painter must be fluent in both elements, and then have just enough imagination to see what the final layer of the painting might look like before the first is applied. I strive to do just that. I try to interpret the subject with a full range of values, a harmony of warm and cool tones, a saturation of color, a balanced design and an accurate drawing beneath it all.
From the beginning, I’ve been fascinated with the way that the artists whom I admire make shiny things look shiny and glass objects appear transparent and water appear reflective and wet. Hands that look like hands intrigue me, and portraits that are recognizable as the people they represent seem the ultimate manifestation of a painter’s skill. There has always been a part of me that wants to push his nose up close enough to the painting to “see how this guy did it.” My love affair with the techniques of representational art is abundantly evident in my work.
I grew up watching John Gnagy on TV. I must have somehow assimilated perspective drawing through him, because I cannot remember ever learning it. I still have a carbon pencil from one of his “learn-to-draw” kits that I got one Christmas when I was a little boy. Nearly a lifetime later, I’m still that same kid who wouldn’t stop drawing, although lately the kid wears bifocals and has hair that is more gray than blonde.
For 23 years I went to sea and worked as an engineer – hardly the sort of thing a painter might sight in his development. But in virtually every day of my professional career I called upon my drawing ability to explain problems both complex and simple. I can testify to the truth of the adage that a picture can be worth a thousand words. Those I worked with regularly said, “You should become an artist.” Of course, I’m now told that I paint like an engineer. I don’t fight it - You can’t get away from who you are.
Later, I took courses with Don Wilheim. His ideas on technique are at the foundation of my thinking about oil painting. When I came to HCC as a middle-aged student, I met Frank Cressotti. He challenged me to reconsider some hide-bound ideas I clung to and to see that the “art” part of painting could co-exist with the “craft.” At HCC I made friends with one of the most talented artist I’ve ever known: The late Don Kendrew and I learned much of what we knew about watercolors while working together.
I try to paint like the artists I admire — all those virtuosos who were masters of the craft and seemed to be able to make a picture with a minimum number of brushstrokes. Among them, I learned from John Singer Sargent that no matter how hard you labor, the painting should look like you just whipped it off. I admire the young Corot, whose motto seemed to be “simplify, simplify.” Rowland Hilder’s watercolors are marvels that lend veracity to his statement, “The one most important aspect of watercolor painting, and a reason why practice is important, is the feel for the eventual delicacy of the final product.” Monet showed me that detail need only be suggested, and I know Renoir was talking to me when he said, “We should not be afraid to make pretty paintings.”
Me, I make pictures. I have no wish to be taken seriously. For that matter, I’m unsure if I meet my own definition of the term “artist.” Sometimes a painting is just a painting. Still, I remain committed to the interpretive aspect of the representational work I do, and take to heart my fellow painters’ compliment of “well seen.” I paint in the hopes that the viewer might recognize something of life’s ongoing beauty and artistry trough my interpretations.