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s/b Cunabula, materials: tree branch, wire, paper, plaster, paint, Styrofoam, clay, 17' x 5'x 5'.


New Construction Tree I, tree branch, fabric, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay, 3'x 4' x 3.


New Construction Tree IV, tree branch, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay, paper, fabric, 5' x 5' x 5'.




Artist: Judith Mullen of Wheaton, Illinois, USA

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Over the past several years Judith Mullen's paintings, sculptures and installations continue to explore motion and space, the nature/culture divide and transformation. Sculptures and installations evolve out of the painting process by using materials already found in the studio along with objects found while hiking, (fallen tree branches, bark, stumps, rocks). Mullen marries these items to the handmade, along with fabric, wire, clay, wax, plaster and paint. The once cast away and forgotten is transformed into energized, an open container which speaks to illusions, history and possibility.

Mullen has been an exhibiting artist for the past twelve years. Her work has been shown in venues throughout the United States including Chicago, New York and Los Angeles and most recently at the South Bend Museum of Art, Indiana. She is a recent recipient of the Illinois Arts Council Fellowship, which provided her with an opportunity to spend two weeks at Grotte de Niaux, France, studying the ancient cave paintings, resulting in a solo show in France.

In 2001 Mullen received a BFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (Merit Scholarship and Zanzi Scholarship). Over the past twelve years she has received numerous awards along with professional residencies. Her work is held in both private and public collections and in Chicago she is represented by Linda Warren Projects, Chicago, Lois Lambert Gallery, Santa Monica and Porter Contemporary, New York. Judith's website.


Artist: Judith Mullen.


Tell us about your work?

I am a Chicago based artist living near the forest preserve in suburbia while maintaining a studio practice in the city. My sculptures, installations and paintings attempt to explore the nature/culture divide, transformation, migration and conservation.


Cunabula, tree branch, fabric, wire, plaster, clay, Styrofoam, 17' x 5' x 5'.

Cunabula installation view


From where do you get your inspiration?

Growing up in the mid-western part of the United States, I had the great fortune to spend part of the year in an urban setting and the remainder of my time on a farm in Northern Wisconsin. I found the juxtaposition's of these two landscapes fascinating, not the least being the firm boundaries each held close keeping the other at bay. These childhood memories continue to be the genesis of my current studio practice. Each day begins with a walk in a nearby forest preserve to collect items, document shapes either by photographing or sketching. This is followed by a trek to my city studio space where the fast paced energy of the city, cracks in the sidewalks, street signs and traffic merges with whatever I bring with me from the natural world. Somewhat like the Bower Bird found in Australia and New Guinea, I weave the natural world into the man-made world to create a "bower" or a place to highlight this union. Additional inspiration comes from a range of music played in the studio, including Rock, hip-hop and classical. And last but not least, I am an avid reader and am most recently rereading the great classics including the Grapes of Wrath, Silas Mariner and others. I find the characters in these novels to be very human and on some level a great reminder of how much has changed in our culture over the past one hundred years.


New Construction Tree I, tree branch, fabric, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay, 3'x 4' x 3.


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

The early prehistoric cave painters continue to influence my work. In 2007 I had the great fortune to travel to the south of France to visit the ancient caves at Grotte de Niaux. I was profoundly influenced by their determination to record contemporary culture as it existed 30,000 years ago, using whatever means were available. They experimented with local and regional materials in an effort to communicate stories and/or vision relative to their time in history. These early artisans placed a great deal of emphasis on craftsmanship, authenticity and re-purposing materials. These are qualities I strive for in my studio practice.


World of Threads Recommends:
"DVD Documentary: Cave of Forgotten Dreams"


New Construction Tree II, tree branch, fabric, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay 2'x 5' x 2'.


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work?

The contemporary artist Lee Bontecou has had the most influence on my work over the past several years. Bontecou had a lot of early success as a young artist and yet made a conscious decision to leave the business of being in the art world to focus on raising her family and teaching in Brooklyn. However, she continued to work in her studio and over a period of time created some of the profoundly beautiful and uniquely her sculptural pieces. For me, Bontecou highlights the idea that "it is about the work" that matters. Personally, I think she has a lot of courage and it takes some courage to keep making work ... because it wants to be made! Another artist who I've found influential is Judy Pfaff.  Pfaff challenges conventions with her use of materials and in her presentation of the work. The same can be said of the Chicago based sculptor, Nick Cave, and his fabulous sound suits.


World of Threads Suggests:
"Lee Bontecou: A Retrospective"


New Construction Tree III, tree branch, fabric, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay, 3'x 2' x 2'.


What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

In my studio practice I am both a painter and a sculptor.  My sculptures initially evolve out of the paintings and at some point take on a life of their own.


New Construction Tree IV, tree branch, plaster, Styrofoam, wire, clay, paper, fabric, 5' x 5' x 5'.


Tell us about your training, how it has influenced you and how you have applied what you have learnt.  

In 2001 I graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Most of my career as a student was spent in the Advanced Painting Program where I learned to spend most of the day in a very tiny, shared studio space. If need be, I could still work in a closet!


Cunabula installation view.


Is there someone who, or something that has made a difference/impact on your work?

As an artist having positive feedback and support is vital. Along with my family, I am fortunate to still have contact with several professors/artists including Michiko Itatani, Sarah Krepp and Phil Hanson.  Additionally, Linda Warren from Linda Warren Projects has supported my work in Chicago for the past five years and I am very grateful.


I Hug the World and the World Hugs Me Back, 2003 performance.


Please explain how you developed your own style and how do you describe your art to people?

Spending long hours in the studio, experimenting with materials, and not having an agenda are three of the ways I have been able to develop my voice. Letting the piece guide me to where it wants to go is key, and difficult. In describing my art to people I generally say I explore the relationship between the natural world and contemporary culture in both my paintings and sculptures.


Forest Floor Relief I, side view

Detail: Forest Floor Relief I.


What do you see as the biggest challenge?

Usually the biggest challenge is trying to figure out how to move the more fragile pieces after they are made. I tend to make the piece and then figure out how it will be transported ... it's all about the process!


Bower Bird Tree, installation view.


How did you initially start showing your work in galleries and do you find it more difficult to show and sell your work than non-fibre artists?  

I was very fortunate to make the acquaintance of Linda Warren several years ago. Linda stopped in at a show I was having at the Contemporary Art Center and offered me a show at her gallery. Linda has been extremely supportive of my work, both paintings and sculptures and both paintings and sculptures have sold.


Forest Floor Relief I, fabric, wire, clay, wax,Styrofoam, wood, plaster, paint, 3' x 2 l/2'x12".


What is your philosophy about the Art that you create?

If I have a philosophy at all, I think it would be to try and keep my agenda out of the work and let the process take over. When I can let this happen I usually find the work more successful.


Forest Floor Relief II, fabric, wire, rope, wood, paint, Styrofoam, 5' x 4' x 12".

Forest Floor Relief II, side view.


What project has given you the most satisfaction and why?

I have been working on the Forest Floor Project for the past several years. It has been challenging but also I have learned so much about materials, boundaries, patience and more. I find that satisfying.


Forest Floor Relief VII, fabric, paint, plaster, cardboard, tape, yarn, 5' x 3' x 12".


What interests you about the World of Threads festival?

The World of Threads festival is the only collective of internationally acclaimed fibre artist that I am aware of, and it is very supportive.  I am very grateful for this opportunity to be selected for an interview with this great group.


Forest Floor Relief VIII, fabric, plastic, plaster, cardboard, tape, yard, 5' x 7' x 15".


Do you have any upcoming shows?

"White Noise" Lois Lambert Gallery, Santa Monica, thru November
"Unfold" Riverside Art Center, Riverside, Il, January 2014
"Afoot", Linda Warren Projects, May 2014


Forest Floor Relief XXII, tree bark, fabric, sawdust, plaster on wood, 38" x 45" x 12".


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