As the pandemic continues to alter our lives, artists (as well as their supporters!) are working hard to create new ways for art lovers to interact with art. As many of us know, viewing artwork through a screen does not compare to experiencing it in person. Currently, Chicago-based artist Ahavani Mullen’s solo exhibition From Sky to Sky is on view at CIRCA Gallery. Sadly, due to the pandemic, the gallery has closed its doors after many years of making its mark on the art scene in Minneapolis, MN. However, Mullen’s exhibition is still on view virtually. And although it is not the same, it is worth taking the time to explore. Having experienced the artist’s work in person myself, I’ve gotten a sense of her use of materials, the tactile nature of her work, and the subtle layering she creates with a mixed-use of paint. I’m a huge fan of Mullen’s work, and feel fortunate to bring a small portion of her work to the online pages of Create!
Ahavani Mullen’s work is a brilliant fusion of two-dimension and three-dimensional work that form wall reliefs that scatter across the wall when installed like a constellation across the sky. In From Sky to Sky, the wall becomes the sky, and the stars become abstract, organic forms of soothing hues filled with rich textures that beg you to touch. In her Celestial Crevasses, Mullen paints with acrylic on aluminum, forming shapes that crumple and spring out from the wall. These forms are shiny and smooth in some parts, and sharp in other areas where the metal bends and collapses. Heavy contrast is a dominant theme in Mullen’s work, as she carefully and meticulously combines materials in unlikely ways.
In other pieces, she uses limestone, talc, and polystyrene to create forms on the wall that look like tectonic plates or heavy, hard stone. However, these forms are actually as light as Styrofoam, and are further abstracted by the artist’s use of unnatural colors. What may look like natural earth and stone becomes alien by Mullen’s use of neon greens and blues. Complicating her use of materials further, Mullen also uses encaustic on the surface of her work. Her unique use of this material tricks the eye into thinking that the piece has natural, organic material on its surface, such as in the piece Arete No. 5. When I saw a similar piece of Mullen’s in person, I thought something was growing on the surface. I truly had no idea what I was looking at, which is one of the many magical aspects of the artist’s skill. Even Mullen’s two-dimensional pieces tend to trick the eye as they are layered in a way that creates an illusion of depth. About her materials, the artists says:
“My sculptural works collaborate with and amplify the physical flatness of the paintings, playfully posing questions about the work’s own imagined origin and history, material composition and density. These works are solid structures covered in canvas, composed of a variety of media such as silver leaf, limestone, charcoal, encaustic paint, aluminum, or copper. Alternating between seemingly weightless and impossibly dense, some works echo invisible forces of nature, while others reference geologic strata or relics from ancient civilizations on earth or beyond.”
From Sky to Sky reminds us not only of the ingenuity and endlessly innovative processes in art, but also the elements in our world that connect us. The sky is something that is always there, a constant in all of our lives. Even during a time like the present, art remains a constant in our lives as well, whether it is virtual or in person. With a little creative thinking, we can all stay connected to art.
Based in Chicago, Ahavani Mullen is a full-time artist whose work can be seen on her website, and her exhibition From Sky to Sky can be seen here, where you can also see a video showing an installation view of her work.