Explosive Debate: Columnist Herb Caen vs, Art critic Thomas Albright over G. Mark Mulleian paintings
During the 1970s Mulleians works had not gone unnoticed by
leading art critics and
San Francisco's art academies.
Although Mulleianís vast subject matter is considerable and far reaching, unlike any other artist before, it is not without its controversy which would find its way rumbling through the halls and conference rooms at San Francisco Art Academy and the Department of Art at San Francisco State. During the early 1970ís the Academy of Arts committee in San Francisco debated over Mulleianís paintings in a board meeting focusing on the artistís subject matter, splitting the committee in half. Their criticism was over Mulleianís wide range of subject matter. As if to say ďOne who paints seascapes should only paint seascapes. One who paints portraits should only paint portraits.Ē Half of the committee members disagreed. In reaction to the Academyís criticism, Mulleian responds, ďI have nothing more to say except, I have more to say.Ē Mulleian's name would also reach the lips of art critic Alfred Frankenstein, professor of Art History, were he engages in a discussion of Mulleian’s art in his classroom at the University of California at Berkeley.
At the time the artist stated: His greatest horror is for any artist to diminish their work by allowing the popular or conventional influences of the establishment to overshadow the integrity of the creative vision. To capitulate is to lose ones voice.
Art Critic Thomas Albright
In 1972, the late Thomas Albright, northern California's influential art critic for the San Francisco Chronicle published a weekend edition on Mulleian's new surrealism, accusing the artist of attempting to turn back the clock to the literalism of a bygone era, such as that of the Dutch and Italian Renaissance masters. Albright found this to be a threat to the sensibilities of the 1970’s loosely defined art world of abstract expressionism, conceptualism and experimental modernism. Mulleian responded: "Should I take Albright's comments literally or conceptually?" A day later the San Francisco Examiner ran to Mulleian's defense. Art critic William Zakariasen wrote, "An impressive exhibit of large scale paintings is at the Frank Gallery by Mark Mulleian that has a worthy message with well developed technique to translate it to the viewers. Mulleian's fine sense of perspective and anatomy of heroic figures is reminiscent of Caravaggio."
Explosive Debate: Herb Caen vs. Thomas Albright
In his ‘Baghdad By The Bay’ column, the Chronicle’s iconic Herb Caen frequently lauded Mulleian’s work all through the 1970s, but in 1972 an explosive dispute developed that quaked through the entire San Francisco Chronicle building, even reaching the streets and the people “in the know”. The dispute had to do with Thomas Albright’s apparent belief that anything having to do with the subject of art should come only from Mr. Albright, an opinion that abruptly engaged Caen’s critical attention. Caen disagreed. With his characteristic cosmopolitan tact he made it clear that when it came to the story on Mulleian it didn't just fall into Mr. Albright’s jurisdiction. He rightly argued that any story expounding the talents of Mulleian or the nature of his work would have to do not only with art but also with the young artist’s contribution to the broader cultural story of the moment by an original San Francisco personality. When the dust settled, Caen’s position prevailed.
Tullah Hanley, world renowned art connoisseur
In one of her visits to San Francisco in 1980, world renowned connoisseur of the arts Tullah Hanley, after viewing a feature exhibit of Mulleianís paintings at the Visual Experience Gallery, compared Mulleianís technique to that of the post-Renaissance Dutch and Italian Masters in composition, detail and his palette of tonal tour de force. Hanley, whose major collection of paintings would eventually be bequeathed to the De Young Museum, descending from the upper gallery in a burst of spontaneous enthusiasm, grasped the artistís hand, voicing impassioned admiration and praising his work as the best she had ever seen in a long time.
In 1973 Mulleian comes out
In January 1973, The Advocate (a national newspaper in the U.S.) published one of the biggest feature stories on an individual of its day, which drew national attention and generated fan mail throughout the U.S. The cover story was two full pages dedicated to Mark Mulleian's art and lifestyle, and his views ranging from human rights and individual sexual expression. It was in the area of individual sexual expression that Mulleian's outspoken views drew the attention of the FBI to the front door of the artist's studio in an investigation into his controversial and challenging commentary of aspects of fundamental social values, Mulleian reveals that he is a homosexual.
Despite the artist's outspoken observations of the national scene, his media attention continued to climb for over three decades, not only in mainstream media but also in the media of a newly emerging counterculture that was finding its voice in what would later come to be thought of as a bridge between the sensibilities of North Beach and the dawning of a new age of personal expression and sexual freedom. He was thought by many to be ahead of his time. Mulleian's art and his avant-garde views created a unique relationship with the media of two cultures, a relationship that was not only unprecedented but, indirectly, a testimony to the universality of his work.
Two weeks after the Advocate story broke, a similar two-page cover feature would appear in the European equivalent of the Advocate, the German magazine Him, a monthly periodical reaching a wide audience in Belgium, Denmark, England, Italy, the Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Luxembourg and the United States. Mulleian was twenty-three years old.
Author Leonard Roy Frank
Mulleian was first discovered in 1969 by author, Leonard Roy Frank, a discovery which opened the doors to one of the most unique exhibits at the Frank Gallery in the 1970's featuring the works of sculptor Benjamino Bufano and painter G. Mark Mulleian that brought national public attention attracted people from all walks of life, ranging from the very young to the very old, from the poor to the very rich, from the common folk to intellectuals to the very famous. Herb Caen, Elton John, Janis Joplin, Vincent Price, Shirley Temple Black, Beverly Sills, Tullah Hanley, Three Christy Minstrels, Thomas S. Szasz, Robert Shields and Yarnell and Eric Hoffer were among the admirers of Mulleian's work at the Frank Gallery.
For over four decades Mulleianís paintings have continued to inspire and captivate audiences worldwide, due to the immediacy and relevance of his message, delivered with stunning realism and universality of subject matter. Through media exposure of television, print and the Internet, the gallery exhibits of the 1970s, 80s and 90s have expanded far beyond the limits of the earliest years. Recent broadcasts of his biographical interview, the commemoration of the hundredth broadcast of Positive Spin, and the upcoming biographical television special will be seen by audiences around the world. Likewise, this web site www.mullean.com reaches millions worldwide.