The title translates as 'surface' and as the word suggests, there are layers to this show both immediate and covered up. Mullan was in a buoyant mood as his second solo show in London opened and his first with the relatively new space in Marylebone, almost a year in from it's inception. It was an underground carpark and as well as a concrete floor there are yellow lines marking out where vehicles would have manoeuvred.
The artist works over a range of mediums and has done so across his decade long career. He studied video in Stockholm, moving there after attending art school in Vienna. He said he was able to flex his muscles a little, to come across as a guy from the big city - though of course in context his practise in Berlin and London has been amid a larger mass of people, cultures, subcultures and tribes than Austria has ever offered. His girlfriend bought him a sewing machine and in learning to use it he has formed perhaps the range of works he is most famous for, and that best merge his geographical background, where he chooses to live and the varied social political environments of each of them.
As a young man the neo-nazis of Austria wore bomber jackets to identify themselves and though this utilitarian item was itself adopted from the American military his first recognition of it was as a tainted skin, an indication of bias and bigotry. Maturing, seeing more of the world and the world evolving, uniforms and signifiers updating themselves, Mullan soon recognised that much like Dr Martens boots, the jacket was adopted by other tribes, in different eras and with opposing beliefs. The clothing itself transcended any of the individual social systems it had been associated with.
Starting more often than not with a square and from the bottom left of the canvas, Mullan sews and adds shapes and fabric graph-like towards a higher right hand corner creating a patchwork of greens in an irregular grid. Reds, orange, grey or black jackets are also skinned, though assembled only in matching tones. The green below, in Heat, is the largest of the works and it looks much like flying over fields in the English countryside. A nod here, a flight jacket from the vantage of a pilot. With the orange the sensation is more dangerous and alert - though much smaller Indian Summer (2016) is lit so brightly as to radiate the gallery space; walls painted dark grey to exaggerate the colour. A further link here harking back to its original purpose - American airmen wore their jackets inside out if they crashed to draw attention to themselves should an ally fly over head.
Creating these landscapes and patterned quilts of multi-jacketed sun bleached cloth gives rise to an interesting by-product. Hanging like pelts behind the reception counter are three Naked Bomber Jackets - works Mullan regularly finds himself with having skinned them of their colour for his Alpha Series. In keeping with his exploration and interest in subcultures, with these he creates his own. These coats are given to those of a like mind, freely to supporters of his practise, leaving collectors to debate over the other pieces for sale. He has said they should be returned if the recipient no longer appreciates his output and that they should be worn, particularly, to other art shows.
The other most revered series shown extensively in Berlin, covering all visible walls of the Dittrich Schlechtriem gallery as an installation, are his Popularis works. Essentially these are tiled assemblages not dissimilar to the textile works, hand made and formed in partial grid sequence again, often from the bottom left. None on show here contain any significant diagonals but there is still fantastic variation and cultivated balance in the rhythm of their grouting. Mondrian's Manhattan lines spring to mind but Ben Nicholson's white reliefs must also be a reference. More recently Sergej Jenson was another artist we talked of. PM/AM have lit these tiles well - coupled with such a foreboding background wall they hang as though emitting light themselves.
For the first time in this show, there are also three screens, made with an old friend of the artist called Wittman Metallbau. It is the first time he has not been so implicitly involved with the making of his work, though he was keen to progress this series and learn to weld. Perhaps as they are so new to him it was easier to explore them with enthusiasm but Mullan was very open to their prospective use, not adverse to them being domestically appointed to hang clothes, or in a more rigid fashion, to be left outside for children to climb all over.
Open and inquisitive, considerate and warm - Mullan came across justifiably confident in his works. They hang or sit well underground and far from day light but they contain a quotidian humour and structure very much in place of the world above. There are references of politics and suggestions of labour and trade but these works are also infused with a century of art history and strike an aesthetic balance more established than the ambiguity of all Mullan's influences.
http://www.pmam.org/artists/simon-mullan/ until May 30th