The Rosary - An Historical Perspective
The Rosary
The earliest work by Mulleian was produced in 1951 when he was five years old. Twenty years later the rendering was found in an old trunk kept by his grandmother, Genevieve Mulleian, who raised Mark in his early childhood years. Mulleian painted all through his early pre-teen school years and well into high school. It was here that faculty members would purchase or commission works by the young artist. Recognizing Mulleian’s gift, members of the school board as well as teachers furnished him with paints, brushes and an easel which was set up in an old bungalow marked with the number eight. It was here that Mulleian was left alone to paint.
During this period English teacher Mr. Danielson of Lincoln High School became a mentor to the fifteen year old Mulleian. The artist would become very close to Danielson, and would regard the teacher as his second father. One spring afternoon while visiting Mulleian in his bungalow studio, Danielson, a painter himself, walked to the blackboard, picked up a piece of chalk, and with a decisive flourish, presented two of the artist’s initials on the board in a highly stylized manner. In reaction Mulleian put down his brush and approached the blackboard,
The Rosary Oil, 34"x 44", 1966
studying the newly produced initials. Breaking the silence, the artist picked up the chalk and in five quick slashes added a middle initial with a long diagonal slash through all three, creating what would eventually become Mulleian’s trademark signature and the hallmark of his paintings for all time.
Also during this period, and equally as important a point, art teacher Marilyn Clark played a principle role in supporting the young artist. Miss Clark, also recognizing his advanced gifts, isolated him from the rest of the class by providing him with a second studio in the art department supply room. It was in these two spaces that Mulleian would be left to continue painting through the rest of his school days at Lincoln High. These circumstances, and the generosity and insights of these two mentors, would prove to be crucially important to Mulleian’s development of his work.
This 1966 painting entitled The Rosary is Mulleian's earliest recorded work. Mulleian was nineteen years old when he completed this painting. "The Rosary" led to the commissioning of other paintings by officers while Mulleian was in the army. While in Vietnam, Mark was also commission to paint a mural at Co Chi base camp. Early one morning it was discovered that a fragment from a rocket and mortar attack the night before had damaged the mural, leaving a two-inch hole in the canvas. Mulleian had been working on this very same area of the mural the night before.
In 1971 the painting was given by the artist as a gift to his grandparents. The painting would hang in the softly sun-lit living room were Genevieve and Marcos Mulleian and their friends would cherish the painting through their final years until his grandfather’s death in 1973.
Eventually "The Rosary" was purchased by a specialist California attorney in 1976, and moved to his new estate along the cost of Mexico.
The Rosary - An Historical Perspective
This painting entitled The Rosary is Mulleian's earliest photographically documented work. The painting took six months to produce and was completed shortly after the artist turned eighteen years of age.
One of the most remarkable things about this painting is that Mulleian had no tangible, visual model for his subject, but painted all of the detailed images directly out of his own imagination, drawing entirely from early memories and impressions gleaned from earliest childhood. He started this painting in 1966, while stationed at Ford Ord, California, shortly after being drafted into the army. He continued working on the piece in unpredictable locations around the base, wherever he and his materials could be accommodated. Due to the constant, chaotic movement that was necessary while developing his ideas, he had no access to props or models of any kind readily available to him. Carrying extra luggage was not a practical option while having also to carry his easel, canvas, paints and brushes from one random workspace to another.
The various ‘impromptu studios’ that he would seek out would inevitably offer neither space nor privacy, such as in one example, a corner of the First Sergeant’s head office. Here, Mulleian subsequently painted in plain view of an amorphous flow of officers as they went in and out of the room in the course of their own company business. Sometimes, the artist, his easel and canvas would all be helpfully assisted by friends through a ground floor office window where he could continue working on his painting until the barracks lights went out. Other times, he would stay up all night, painting while his platoon slept. For light, Mulleian painted in the latrine, often until dawn, usually standing on a wet concrete floor in heavy draughts of steam as troops filed through to take their 5:am showers. There were times when Mulleian was known to stay up for two or three days in succession in order to resolve the challenges of detail that were presented in this work. Because of the ecclesiastical setting of the work, one which relies on thematic and stylistic features reminiscent of both Renaissance and Baroque sensibility, and because he was working entirely from memory, the demands on his powers of concentration were both specific and diverse, so it became necessary to use the silence of the midnight hours to intuit just the right degree of detail that could express his essential meaning, drawing inspiration from a deeply mystical sensibility emanating from within the artist’s own creative imagination. The contrasts between his inner and outer working environments couldn’t have been more at polar extremes.
Mulleian became well known at Fort Ord. He and his work were featured in numerous articles in the Ford Ord newspaper and in interviews on local radio programs. At one point, the artist was given a whole barrack to work on a commissioned, large-scale painting for the Officers Club. In an atmosphere that would ordinarily be thought of as a most unlikely place to
be creative, Mulleian, as subject to all the rigors of training as anyone, produced a number of paintings throughout his assignment at Fort Ord, but he would be the first to admit that this was made possible with the appreciative help and cooperation of his fellow soldiers, as well as with the same good will from not just a few of his commanding officers.
He invariably found respect and admiration wherever he went, as well as numerous requests for his work and a wide berth for his creativity. The relatively shy and unassuming young artist was allowed to dry his paintings using the overhead ceiling rafters above the bunks in barracks where the troops slept, all the while permeating the atmosphere around them with the distinct smell of drying oils and turpentine. Significantly, there were no complaints from any of his fellow soldiers. He recalls that even some of the hardest-nosed superiors seemed to offer implicit encouragement, if only by looking the other way while vaguely suggesting what a good thing it would be if he were to produce something they could hang on the wall of their own quarters on base. What is most amazing, and has proven a consistent pattern that’s followed him throughout his life, is that no matter where he has gone with his easel and brushes, throughout his years in grammar school and through the army years, in opportunities for gallery showings and subsequent, unsolicited media exposure, that same sense of cheerful enablement and unexpected support have appeared seemingly out of nowhere. It would seem, to an almost supernatural degree, that doors have invariably opened to him, and circumstances have enthusiastically invited him to enter.
The Rosary took three months to complete.
Consistent with Mulleian’s reliance on symbols to capture the essence of his vision, this very early work is no exception in its use of symbolically fertile forms. As with in many of Mulleian’s paintings, light is a key element. From the very start, the entire atmosphere of the work is the product of a single, central source of light, radiating a diffuse glow of red and gold throughout this interior space, balancing the warmth emanating from the stained glass window above, with the cooler blue suffusing the alter cloth in the other half of the work below, suggesting a full spectrum of value intensities throughout, while the central images of chalice, bible and rosary are framed in an arch of richly rendered panels of iconographic detail. These are all symbolic properties and potentialities that might naturally be expected within a subject and setting whose inherent liturgical vocabulary is comprised of an almost exclusively symbolic vernacular.
As with all of Mulleian’s paintings, the choice of subject and setting for The Rosary is neither an idle intellectual speculation nor an overflow of a passionate idealism of youth. Instead, its thematic intention materializes out of an inherently mystical predisposition of character and a spiritual/philosophical stance that materialized very early in the artist’s life. At the age of three years old, Mulleian and his brother (one year younger) were deserted by their mother. Over the next three years the boy’s father relied on the boy’s grandparents to look after them until medical issues brought that plan of care to a temporary halt. Unable to find reliable care for them with extended family, the father placed both boys in foster care until their grandparents were in a position to care for them more permanently. As it happened, the separation from their family lasted for a period of nearly a year. There was no warning given to either of the boys that they would be placed in care, nor was there any explanation given as to whether the period of separation would be a permanent or temporary arrangement. It simply, suddenly happened. One day they were living with their grandparents. The next day, Mark was taken by his grandfather to a location somewhere in San Francisco, a black car drove up to the curb, the car door opened, Mulleian was placed on the back seat as the door slammed behind him, and through the back window he watched as the car pulled away, leaving his grandfather weeping into his hands, his image retreating further and further into the distance, finally disappearing altogether as the car turned a distant corner. A similar sequence of events occurred to the younger brother two days later.
Understandably, this single event had a profound effect on the young Mulleian, ultimately resulting in an intense, immediate perception of an imminent spiritual dimension that has determined the way he sees the world and all that happens in it. He instinctively withdrew into himself, where, alone, he would learn, as Jung put it, “what it is that most sustains us”. With no understanding of how long or for what reason such a state of uncertainty would last, he instinctively discovered a source of hope and comfort in a direct, immediately perceived, intrinsic spiritual reality that has become his single source of refuge and meaning to the present day. From a discovery in early childhood of an immanent, indwelling reality, to the ongoing, mature insights emanating forward to artistic expression, the product of transcendent insight, this is the history of Mulleian’s perspective and the source of all his work. It embodies a perspective of life that is based, exclusively, on faith.
From this ironically fortunate, some would say fateful, period in his life, it became apparent to him that, because of a natural temperament, his perspective of the world is a characteristically intuitive, and indeed, a mystical perspective. It would not be an exaggeration to describe his world-view as having a supernatural dimension, that is, a view that looks beyond the material world, seeing with essentially symbolic sensibility all that animates his full spectrum of perception. From out of what he’d experienced as a transcendent spiritual dimension as a child, the soldier scrounging a place where he could paint in the Fort Ord of the mid-1960s had his inner attention focused far beyond what physically met the eye. The images that comprise the subject of each of the panels forming the overarching background of The Rosary exemplify this inherently spiritual disposition. This disposition has characterized not only his choices in most all of the central motifs of his major works, but continues to characterize his overall world-view, and has been largely reinforced by his experiences of a series of significant, transformative events at various points in his life.
In a sense, The Rosary is something of a thematic overture to future events, some of which have already taken place since the painting was completed, and others that have yet to follow. The context of these events that have occurred, and the artist’s relationship to them, can rightly be described as clairvoyant, inasmuch as he found that he was able to predict when and how those events would take place. The subject of this painting is also a prediction of what the artist believes will take place at some unknown future date. Though it might seem a digression from a discussion of the work at hand, a description of at least one of these definitive events might help to enrich our understanding of The Rosary, and its significance in setting the stage for all the other life-changing events that would follow. A prime example of one such event took place while Mulleian was stationed in Viet Nam, nearly a year after he moved on from Fort Ord.
While serving in Vietnam, the artist received a prophetic intuition of an occurrence, a preordained event that would take place at exactly 9 p.m., twelve hours into the future. That same day, at precisely the time predicted, a direct hit by a 75-millimeter recoilless mortar sliced through the decade - old, small, dilapidated bunker where Mulleian and twelve others of his company were sheltered. One hour earlier, drenched in sweat and shaking with growing, frantic despair, an unintelligible stream of words began to pour first softly, then with growing intensity, from his mouth, filling the surrounding silence with an indecipherable plea for protection while sitting without his helmet and looking straight up. After an hour of his plea, Mulleian suddenly fell profoundly silent for ten seconds; ten seconds unearthly, blissful silence, just before the explosion blew a large hole two feet in diameter through the bunkers’ roof, two and a half feet above Mulleian’s head. Hot jagged metal pieces of all sizes rained down and gently came to rest like feathers on the men where they laid on the floor as the artist sat staring up at a light from a large single star surrounded by a black night sky through the hole from the blast. When it was over Mulleian had no memory of the spoken words or language in which they were expressed; only the plea that came from his mouth, and a recollection that he had earlier perceived the exact same scene precisely as he was experiencing it in that moment. be continued...
By Paul Deegan