A 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 Mullien’s 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.
Essentially, this is a landscape, a pastoral setting, but in meaning, it is an aeon’s 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 isn’t 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?
Probably 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 window’s surface. The glass, so realistically rendered, appears as brittle and as cold as a sheet of ice.
If 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.
This 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.
Symbolically 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 man’s destiny, or rather, a reflection on man’s destiny?
This 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.
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But 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.
Likewise, 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.
The 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.
Prevailing Dawn Oil, 22"x16" 1972
Analysis and Review by Paul Deegan

Navigated by providence

Navigated by providence,
guardian of civilization. Determines
its destiny,
consecrated by the forces of
man and nature that gives testament in this sacrament... a heart ruled by the mind
is a mind not ruled by the heart
which brings about the
ultimate dawn.

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PREVAILING DAWN