companion piece to Dies Irae is the work entitled Prevailing Dawn. This second
painting was completed in 1970 but was purchased and disappeared from public
view three months after completion. In style, Prevailing Dawn is quite different
from most of Mulliens other work. There is something rather
ethereal, enigmatic, and slightly foreboding about this piece, but there is
an element of the surreal
about it too.
this is a landscape, a pastoral setting, but in meaning, it is an aeons
distance from being just a simple pastoral tale. What is most jarring from the
outset is the shattered window frame inexplicably suspended in the middle-distance
over an empty meadow for no apparent reason. To the right of the window is a
mailbox, listing sharply at an angle, and in a state of terminal disrepair.
It isnt until closer examination that one realizes the mailbox is not
rooted in the ground, but like the window, appears to hover above the meadow.
Could this be the visual equivalent of the sound of one hand clapping?
not. The surreal aspects of the painting are actually elements that are anything
but surreal. Despite the pale rose hues that filter through the clouds and suffuse
the surface of the canvas with a warming glow, there is a feeling overall of
winter chill. The ground is covered with brown, stubby growth, with patches
of muted greens of foliage in the lower right of the piece. Not even the marsh
grasses show any real signs of life. The sky is filled with clouds, nimbostratus
clouds, which are low lying and usually bring rain or snow. There appear to
be two opposing banks of cloud, one light and icy, the other dark and ominous,
moving one toward the other, about to meet in an eerie, all encompassing embrace,
as though the darkness is about to envelope the light. The surface of the pond
below reflects the pale milky pink of the sky, while providing a stark contrast
to the frosted opalescence of the icy windows surface. The glass, so realistically
rendered, appears as brittle and as cold as a sheet of ice.
one looks carefully at the window frame, at the very top left of it, there will
be seen the slightest wisp of a line ascending upward, a sort of gossamer thread,
a matted strand of cobweb betraying the downward movement of the window. What
we see is a moment in time, like the frozen frame of a film. Both window and
mailbox are falling from the sky.
is a picture of a post-apocalyptic moment, the frozen moment in time, which
reveals the first signs of a cataclysmic blast. The window and the mailbox are
part of the first wave of debris, jettisoned skyward from the area surrounding
the epicenter of the blast. Essentially, we see here the volitional fallout
of the hubris of mankind.
the window is suggestive of many things: of a shattered, fragmented perspective,
the remains of a now distorted paradigm, or as a metaphor for unconsciousness,
a barrier between man and nature, as well as a barrier between man and his comprehension
of future consequences. It is neither useful as a clear perspective nor as protection
from the harsh realities of the elements nor prevailing circumstances. Likewise,
the mailbox represents the message not received. Is the artist suggesting in
this pastoral setting a reflection of mans destiny, or rather, a reflection
on mans destiny?
is a warning tale that is also a commentary on the potential for environmental
disaster because of the poisoning of the atmosphere in whatever form it may
take, nuclear, chemical or biological. As with the question of radiation and
nuclear night on a global scale, or the melting of the ice caps, disappearance
of the rain forests and the ozone layer, or toxic poisoning of the seas, the
political posturing and economic greed resulting in global warming and species
extinction can be as destructive as naked imperial aggression, a message that
was previously emphasized in his 1969 painting Forsaken Paradise, and later,
in his painting entitled The Calendar, 2047.
here, the central secret as to meaning of this work lies within its composition,
within the sum of all its parts. There are structural, intersecting lines all
leading to the center of the work: the angular outlines of the opening in the
clouds, the gently arching line along the knoll below them, the edge of the
pond extending from lower left to center, the vanishing point of the open mailbox,
the bottom edge of the window, all point inward.
at the very bottom of the work, just to the right of center, is a secret passageway,
presented in the form of a gnarled, meandering strand of barbed wire. Almost
subliminally, it draws us in as it undulates its way toward the center. And
there, hidden in plain sight, at the very center of the work, is the spirit
of it all. Like the prophet in the desert, the messenger, the harbinger, sent
to prepare the way, here is the elevated spirit of man that lives within us
all, looking straight into the light.
artist, as in the previous painting Dies Irae and others, is embracing the belief
in a spiritual force that governs us all. Humanity is but a conscious witness
to the greater force of nature. He is suggesting that if the elevated spirit
of man is drawn toward redeeming power of the greater light, the benevolent,
intangible force will prevail. Ultimately, we are the prevailing dawn.
nature that gives
in this sacrament...
a heart ruled
by the mind
is a mind not ruled
by the heart
which brings about
Dawn Oil, 22"x16" 1972