By Deborah Weisgall
2009, oil on canvas, 12” x 48”
Though James Mullen grew up inland, in rural New Jersey, he was always drawn to the ocean. He painted the coast of Maine even during graduate school in the Midwest; since 2000, he has taught at Bowdoin College. Like 19th-century American landscape painters, he precisely represents details of terrain and captures slanting moments of light, but he records a 21st-century world, where landscape makes reference to layers of images—to art history as well as to a specific place. Mullen finds places that are easy to drive by without noticing. His paintings begin with lines and blocks of color. “Abstraction is my armature, my foundation,” he says. “And then there’s light. Light is the alchemical component that transforms the structure.” Light creates grandeur, distilled from an instant of observation. It turns the scenes Mullen paints into gold.