Artist: John Mueller
Exhibition: No title given
Media: Paint, canvas, wax medium
Gallery: Gatov-Gallery West
Website: None given
About the Artist
John Mueller is an artist as ambiguous as his painting. One look at his work and the viewer is filled with questions. It seems so full of symbols and meaning: colors, and people and animals that must bring some important side to his artwork. To an eager questioner though, Mueller can come across as frustratingly short on answers. But this is all for a reason, as I will soon explain.
To begin with, one should know where Mueller currently finds himself. He is a student of the School of Art at CSULB under the Drawing and Painting program. He is an undergraduate working towards his BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts). Mueller’s interests align with his work. He enjoys painting but also much more. He enjoys visiting spaces he considers enigmatic or ambiguous. He may also spend his time researching other artists, though he made sure to tell me that while he is inspired by others, he always strives to make his ideas his own.
Mueller spends an impressive amount of time with his paintings. He works all hours of the day since no particular time is special to him. It more depends on what his busy schedule will allow. With his art, Mueller sometimes prefers silence, but enjoys the occasional folk or rock song.
The colors of the piece appear almost haunting. They are deep, shadowy purples, with the focal points of the piece in darkness. The lines are almost Van Gogh in nature. Particularly the floor, which looks very similar to the painting Bedroom in Arles. The surface is heavily textured, characteristic of oil paint. While most of the colors flow nicely, one object does not. The warm brown of the dog in the foreground seems to clash with the cool purples. It is a discordant note in an otherwise rhythmic picture. One theme is constant, though. Every part of this piece is organic. Even the square windows appear almost to shudder. There are no clean lines or edges, but all objects appear to spread themselves onto the page. The effect overall is somewhat surreal and dream-like. The size adds to this. The piece is about the size of a small door, making the scene something the observer could easily place themselves in. The image leaves one with a sense of disquiet, but also curiosity.
For a painting begging so many questions, Mueller is not one of many answers. But his few answers matter, and actually his absence of explanation is part of the importance of his work. I had as many questions as the next observer, and so I eagerly asked; tell me who the man should represent and why he wears the strange hat? Why did you choose the colors you did? What do the objects represent? But mainly I was asking, what was his picture really about? He gave me an answer but not one I was expecting. He told me his painting wasn’t meant to to be explained. That the man, the colors, and the objects didn’t necessarily have a set meaning. The purpose of his work is to make his audience form their own opinions. He wants them to think for themselves and so come up with their own conclusions. This was the same answer he gave when asked what his work was trying to explore. His main goal remains the same; to give the audience a chance to bring their unique opinions and beliefs to a picture that can be interpreted in so many different ways.
But Mueller was not so tight-lipped on everything to do with his painting. It was by no means an ill-thought out project. The simple composition took a full 2 months and many discarded sketches. And Mueller also gave me one little hint about his work. When asked what the mood of his piece was intended to be, he said he wanted the feeling to be unnatural. But he stayed true to his original feelings and said it could also be alien or dream-like, depending on the viewer.
Synthesis/ My Experience
To me, Mueller’s explanation of his art was neither something I was expecting nor something I was familiar with. When I create a piece of, say, a bird or a plant cell, the picture generally has little more meaning than what can be immediately seen. I believe my art is useful, especially for scientific purposes, but it is rather light on symbolic meaning. I suppose I was drawn to this art because of how alien it is compared to my own art and what I generally enjoy. The emotion of the piece was particularly important to why I was drawn to it. The dog’s face had such an amazingly human expression that I analyzed it for quite some time. The colors also created a mood I found put a chill down my spine. As interesting a world as this picture portrayed, it was not one I would want to find myself in. As for what the piece represents for me, I find this difficult to answer. I am quite used to analyzing prose and poetry for its content, but not so much pictures. But I was able to reach a conclusion based on Mueller’s answers and my own interpretations. I suppose to me this picture is much like a Rorschach test. The one where a test subject is given a white paper with random inkblots and asked to assign meaning to them. It isn’t about
understanding the picture, but about understanding the viewer. For instance, I see the dog as more intelligent than his owner, the man at the podium, but neglected. The man is in his own world, but doesn’t stop to realize the world around himself. Though I suppose only a psychologist could interpret my understanding, it is none the less interesting. If not important from a psychological standpoint, then this painting is at least an exercise in creativity. A common test of creativity is to present a test subject with a series of squiggles and them as him or her to make as many common objects as possible from the squiggles. This reminds me of what this picture is. An exercise where the object is to assign as many meanings to the scene and its contents as possible.
Originally, I never thought this picture could resonate with my ideals and my perspectives, and in a way it still doesn’t. For me, I still most enjoy art that has a clear purpose for being created. Whether it is to spread awareness of a political movement or to illustrate a concept, I like drawing that are made for a logical purpose. But all art can’t follow such rigid guidelines. This picture certainly didn’t have an immediate purpose. With this painting though, I found myself able to enjoy it when I found it’s meaning. Perhaps I will more out of my artistic comfort zone to find the beauty and purpose in the art I never saw as such before.