Artist Emily Mullin brings her ceramic vessels to Rockefeller Center


A rainbow of ceramic vessels bursting with personality on every shelf and window sill of Emily Mullin’s art studio, located in the former Navy officers’ quarters at Brooklyn Navy Yard. Loaded with ornate elements – such as curved handles that look like sassy hands akimbo – the exuberant vases and amphoras almost seem to dance, buzzing and smoothing, to the soaring, beep-blooping synth tunes emanating from the high- speakers. The Scrapbook Saturn 2000, plays a compilation of tracks from rebajadas, a style popularized by sonideros (sound system operators) in Mexico in the 60s, 70s and 80s. Sonideros traveled widely collecting eclectic records to play at impromptu parties with equipment which they modified by hand to slow down the tempo, producing distinctive, danceable music. The artisanal spirit and varied influences of the sonideros seem to be an apt parallel to the way Mullin, 37, works today: gathering visual inspiration from a variety of global sources – costume and fashion, dance, travel, nature, art and craft history – and infusing elements into his genre-fusing art that embraces experimentation, humanity and the handmade.

Mullin describes her ceramics as assertive, feminine, playful, wonky and joyful. “But also messy and dripping and unnecessarily decorative – then decorative that it is sometimes detrimental to the structure of the ship,” says Mullin. “Like, it’s too much and it’s gonna break.” But when the works survive his laborious process of manually building the shapes, slow drying, firing, glazing, and firing again, the works look completely original, like line drawings or cut paper that come to life, quivering with humanity. .

Photo by Daniel Greer

Some of the pots that parade through Mullin’s studio will be on display throughout Rockefeller Center through September 5, as part of the latest installment of Art in Focus, a series produced in partnership with Art Production Fund. Featuring bold pops of color and bold abstract forms that draw on the aesthetics of the artist’s childhood in the 90s, the exhibition brings together Mullin’s ceramics, photography and floral elements in a way she describes as feeling “both ancient and modern”.

The trio of windows inside 45 Rockefeller Plaza display an abstract arrangement of vessels. The installation doubles as a slight nod to Mullin’s first job in New York: designing window displays for Bergdorf Goodman, a concert rite of passage for many up-and-coming artists. “Having this work out in public and in a space that I’ve commuted to for many years is really exciting,” says Mullin. “Love the art deco architecture and details and the amazing paintings in the interiors and the reliefs. [Rockefeller Center] is truly an iconic New York location.

At Top of the Rock, Mullin’s murals take on a structural quality, mimicking architectural columns. Vinyl murals installed throughout campus and along the rink-level walkways feature photographs, made in collaboration with her husband and fellow artist Tony Mullin. The photos feature his still lifes, as well as enlarged images of his ceramic work that reveal the tactile and artisanal qualities of his process: dripping glazes, fingerprints, the texture of his studio work surface printed on glass. ‘clay.

“I wanted to create an experience with these vessels where you can appreciate the qualities of drawing and painting and handcrafting, up close,” says Mullin. “I love handmade objects, their inherent quirkiness and their human side. I never want anything to be too symmetrical or too perfect.

Born in California in 1984, Mullin grew up as the middle child in an imaginative household. Her father is a screenwriter and playwright, and her mother, a developmental psychologist. “Very emotional parents, who talk a lot about feelings,” she says. “I think they both understood the value of art and play and were just very creative.” While at Mount Holyoke University on an equestrian scholarship, Mullin first started out as a philosophy student, taking art classes on the side. During her first year abroad, she studied at Goldsmiths, University of London, and immersed herself in the world of art. She says, “After that, I was like, this is definitely what I love to do.”

Photo by Daniel Greer

Mullin moved to New York in 2007 and eventually settled in Lefferts Gardens, where she now lives. During her early years in the city, her artistic practice focused on the exploration of painting and sculpture. “I’ve always been interested in intermediate places between mediums,” she says. “So paintings that look like sculptures or ceramics and sculptures that look like a painting.”

In 2014, Mullin ran into a creative problem. She felt stuck and unenthusiastic about her works. Following her husband’s encouragement to mix things up and try a new medium, she enrolled in a ceramic continuing education course at LIU Brooklyn, attracted by the reasonable price and emphasis on self-directed learning. She learned to throw pots on the wheel and began to take an interest in handcrafting. The class proved to be the gateway to the next phase of his artistic career and a source of unlimited creative fodder. “I feel like I can craft ships forever,” Mullin says. “I always try to create new shapes, experiment with new glazes, new colors, all that. I could never exhaust the medium.

The following year, Mullin saw an exhibition of modernist artwork by Giorgio Morandi at the Italian Modern Art Center in Soho. The exhibition got her thinking about intimate pictorial spaces and sparked a new idea: creating still lifes, creating both scenic scenes and the 3D objects they contain. Filling her vases with flowers and staging them on bespoke theatrical shelves hung on the wall, Mullin plays with dimensionality, medium and genre, all while referencing the rich history of still lifes.

Photo by Daniel Greer

Adding natural elements to his work became a hallmark of Mullin’s work. Bringing the outdoors indoors is something she says she always loved “as a California kid,” and her parents had a thriving garden. “I think of flower arrangement as painting or drawing, with a gestural, linear and bold presence,” she says. “The floral component is one way to create these altars to the natural world. It’s a beautiful way to follow the seasons and mark the meaning of a moment.

When creating new ceramic pieces, Mullin says she thinks of them as character studies, of sorts, or even divas. “They definitely evoke the body for me,” she says. As she begins to create a new form, she sometimes gets an idea of ​​where she wants to go. Often, however, the ship’s personality will reveal itself as it continues to work. The physical labor of working with clay and idiosyncratic body forms overlap with Mullin’s penchant for the New York dance community. Before the pandemic, she took three or four dance classes a week, taught by professional dancers. Although she claims to be a terrible, albeit feisty, dancer by comparison, Mullin says, “I think the body positivity in these classes and the fun and the silliness and the attitude, the flamboyance and the gesture is completely about these ships.”

Bringing its vital ceramics to campus during the lush summer months seems fitting. “It’s a great time of year to have this job at Rockefeller Center,” Mullin says. “Work is all about this kind of explosive fulfillment. I think it will be very bright and colorful in these spaces. In a season of fresh flowers and life that unfolds in color, Mullin’s work invites viewers to embrace joy and imperfection. As she puts it, “There’s just something so human, endearing and charming about a ceramic vessel.”

Works by Emily Mullin will be on display on the Rockefeller Center campus until September 5, 2022. This installation is part of Art in Focus, a series of art exhibitions produced in partnership with Art Production Fund.


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