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"Dies Irae"

he Day of Wrath
the Cornucopia of Mulleians works

A hovering fetus beseeches and reaches out in quest of survival through a post- nuclear-war world. As a vortex of hot winds reshapes the sky, an eagle descends toward the light
offering hope that this calamity may never take
place. Our salvation depends on the transforming
power of human hearts. Only in the center
of our being will we be able to find the
guidance necessary to prevent
our extinction.

Dies Irae came to the artist in the form of a vision,
Vietnams Tet Offensive in 1968.

There are few paintings among us today that really have an indelible impact upon the human consciousness on a universal level as this painting has. More often, these visual subjects form a matrix of symbolic elements, intended to draw the viewer ever closer into a reflective examination of the nature and meaning of experience as lived in the continuum of time.

Always there is a mystery, an irresistible invitation to reflection and, ultimately, to transformation, through it’s prophetic message, warning us of nuclear catastrophe, a message that’s more relevant today than ever before.

This sobering work entitled Dies Irae, by artist G. Mark Mulleian, was conceived in 1968. It came to him in the form of a vision, while lying in a bomb crater during a large-scale ground attack by the North Vietnamese army as they advanced into South Vietnam. However Mulleian didn’t begin the painting until November of 1985, and it was not finished until the spring of 1987.

Analysis and Review by Paul Deegan

The themes of destruction, creativity and transformation are explored in the painting Dies Irae. Dies Irae is perhaps Mulleian’s best known work, and likely the most timely in its implications in relation to the world’s contemporary political realities. It is also one of the most complex in terms of conception, composition and symbolic representation, a painting of symphonic, even biblical, dimensions. Although the idea for Dies Irae was first conceived in 1968 and later painted in 1987, the import and implications of Dies Irae have never been more relevant than now.

The painting depicts a highly dramatic vision, biblical in scale, of the moment before the end of all moments, the moment before the end of all human sentience, the split second before the option of choice is gone from human grasp forever.

The title, Dies Irae is derived from the text of a Medieval Latin hymn describing the Day of Judgment, or Wrath of God. The inherent message of the hymn might seem a fitting phrase describing the paintings vision of Earth’s transformation into Hell. There are, however, a number of other symbolic elements at work within the piece, such as the eagle, the vineyard and the river, all of which suggest that the vision is more a prediction than a prophecy.

The subject is Man, clearly dominating the very center of the painting, here presented in a symbolic form, as a fetus. The present context is that of imminent extinction, for what is represented in the distance is a nuclear conflagration. As in so many of Mulleian’s previous works, light is the central unifying principle at the heart of the painting, both in terms of the painting’s composition and certainly, in terms of it’s meaning. There are two sources of light in the painting, one being the nuclear blast, the other, (as though being born, ironically, out of the blast), a starburst of brilliant light about a quarter of the distance from the top, in the absolute center. This second, seminal light, nearly invisible but in plain sight, is crucial in the sense that it is the very essence of the meaning of this work.

The light of the nuclear blast is seen in unearthly, splendorous beauty at the center of the painting, filtering through the umbilical tissue surrounding the fetus. Radiating outward from that central point of light are the sound and shock waves, the seismic effects of the blast which has already had the beginnings of its effects on the distant atmosphere. As painted, it is as though the very atoms have begun to melt. The sky is charged with an unimaginable energy bursting outward in all directions from the blast, the light radiating through vaporizing banks of clouds, which dissolve and drip their sulfurous discharge earthward, obeying only the laws of physics and gravity. Lightening, being discharged in apocalyptic fury accentuates the symphonic dimensions being conjured here in visual form.

By juxtaposing the image of the fetus directly in front of the atomic blast the artist seems to be saying, “Here is the light of the world”. In his will to power through indiscriminate aggression and the need to dominate, man has presumed to wield the absolute power of life and death. He has assumed the power of a deity. Human intellect has split the atom, so, in this ironic twist, vaporizing light is to be seen as the final product of man’s creative vision, but also the product of his limited wisdom and passion, his blindness and misdirected rage, the result of his hubris and fear. In an objective yet sublimely ironic way, the artist suggests that man’s own hand renders the judgment upon himself. The wrath for which the day is named is man’s own wrath, and the cataclysmic majesty unfolding behind him is the fruit of man’s final judgment upon himself.

But the artist also seems to suggest that there is an alternate choice. There are two dynamic pairs depicted in the painting, making a quarternity. The first pair is composed of the relation between the fetus and the light of the blast. The second is the dynamic link between the eagle, seen in the lower right quadrant of the work, and the seminal, starburst of light mentioned earlier. This second pair, the relation between eagle and starburst, is the compensating positive dynamic, in that the eagle represents the elevated spirit of man drawn toward the redeeming power of the greater light. That is the human spirit enlightened by the transcendent spiritual energy. The benevolent, intangible force prevails because it is the spiritual reality underlying, or rather, balancing the tangible, material world, and, in this instance, over-riding the effect of the atomic blast. It is as though the viewer is given a chance to imagine in a sublime way, a choice. Without reflection, hubris and fear will prevail.