Recent Paintings by Catherine Mulligan at F.A.N. Gallery
by Mary Anna Rodabaugh
“The only noise now was the rain, pattering softly with the magnificent indifference of nature for the tangled passions of humans” - Sherwood Smith
We can all recall a time when we were sitting in the passenger seat of a vehicle, in the middle of a rainstorm, while the driver quickly ran into a store. They probably told us they would be right back and to lock the doors. We would sit, listening to the rain bounce off the roof of the vehicle and stare out at the distorted image ahead of us through the windshield. Streams of water trickled down the windows making everything appear blurry while we waited for the driver to return.
Catherine Mulligan took a memory similar to this and used it to develop her signature style which can be seen in her first solo show, Recent Paintings, at F.A.N. Gallery on 211 Arch Street. This 28-piece exhibit is on display until November 29.
Save-a-lot (day) is a 16x20 oil on Masonite work that captures the vivid visual recollection of memory. While viewing this work, you feel you are sitting in a car during a rainstorm, staring at the bleak Save-a-Lot storefront ahead. Mulligan’s storefront is fuzzy. The colors crash into one another, but the subject is clearly recognizable.
Croydon Strip Mall, a 14x24 oil on Masonite, features several storefronts, including a China Wok. Mulligan’s style has hints of Impressionism, but the blurred aspects give way to specific, sharp details such as the numbers “316” marking a storefront’s address. The yellow lines of the parking spaces are bright and the parking lot gives off a dark, wet appearance.
Her paintings serve as overly explicit accounts of experiences Mulligan has had (both visual and psychological).
“Sometimes you have the wrong emotional response to something and I want to capture that,” Mulligan said. “I like taking seemingly ‘ugly’ things such as storefronts and redeeming them in a way.”
Her redemption efforts go beyond storefronts. In Hand Dryer 2, a 10x10 oil on Masonite work, Mulligan utilizes a variety of mediums including star stickers and pencil in addition to the paint. This piece depicts a shiny, raw and rugged hand dryer. This object is something you would find in a gas station bathroom.
In Laundry Room, a 12x12 oil on board, Mulligan uses browns, whites, blacks and tans. The recognizable image of a laundry room can be found beneath mashed, soft, brushstrokes. Everything in this painting is blended and soft but there is no question as to what the scene literally represents.
Several of Mulligan’s paintings contain deliberate traces of pencil marks including lines and words.
“I just like the idea of it being partially developed. It’s a way to mimic how we perceive things,” Mulligan said. “If it were complete and packaged, that’s not necessarily how everyone perceives things.”
For Philadelphians, one of Mulligan’s most recognizable painting subjects can be found in Check Cashing Center, a 9x12 oil on paper. The Market-Frankford EL can be seen to the left of the painting. The check cashing center sits on what appears to be a median. The parking area is riddled with potholes. Mulligan placed three butterfly stickers at the top of the painting, one red, one yellow and one blue. The sharp and bright stickers produce a strong sense of contrast with the rest of the work. Written lightly in pencil are the words: “Recovery is Slow.” The entire scene is bursting with familiarity, for it is the check cashing center located at the Erie-Torresdale EL stop in the Kensington neighborhood.
Recent Paintings also contains several portraits, self-portraits and still life pieces, including two beautiful paintings of a glistening bowl of wonton soup. Mulligan’s signature style is prevalent throughout all of her paintings. Several of her works sold during November’s First Friday.
One thing is as certain as the recognizable subjects in Mulligan’s soft and blurred paintings: Catherine Mulligan is a highly talented artist to watch and anticipate her future works in the coming years.