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Mueller revels in "garage esthetic"

Published Oct 29 2015 by Elissa Barnard, Chronicle Herald

Richard Mueller threw the visual elements of comic books and cartoons into his artistic cauldron for punchy, playful new artworks in Eye Witness at Studio 21 Fine Art Gallery to Nov. 10.

Mueller, a retired NSCAD professor and intriguing artist who has worked in metal sculpture and abstract prints, calls these works in graphite, acrylic and metal “drawings” on plywood.

He also considers them objects. They have a wonderful hand-made quality in cut-out zigzags of metal, metal teeth hammered in with tiny rivets, patches of wood left visible and intense patterns in paint and pencil marks.

“It’s a kind of garage esthetic,” says Mueller, who has a studio in Mill Village and in Florida during the winter.

“I’m interested in making things that are not just paintings or drawings but they are objects.

“I pull them from the wall, I have the frame within the frame and it’s a thing in itself.”

In Eye Witness, he mixes up familiar elements from comic book imagery in a way that challenges viewers to create their own storylines.

“For years I’ve been interested in the relationship between the verbal and visual issues in art,” says Mueller.

“I was interested in the visual elements of cartoon and pop culture that descends back to Japanese woodblocks.”

These woodblocks, produced for popular consumption, feature a formal organization of imagery and a use of visual elements to create an emotional, narrative response, he says.

Two years ago, he started looking for motifs in popular imagery and cartooning.

“I got interested in the notion of character, and now I’m interested in how character can suggest many different narratives.”

The large painting Spit is a powerful and sinister image that includes giant cartoon eyes, jagged teeth, a fearsome tongue of riveted metal and large isolated hairs like tiny spears. It is, says Mueller, an example of “how these signs we use in contemporary cartoon and comic imagery can be isolated individually and brought back together somewhat randomly and many, many stories are possible coming out of it.”

In the last few works, he was exploring the idea of a painting being aggressive rather than passive. Viewers usually stroll quietly past art for a “passive” experience.

“I wanted to turn the tables on the viewer and make the paintings aggressive. The eyes are confrontational, the teeth are threatening, the jagged edges are aggressive.

“There is also a comic cuteness or silliness you associate with the shapes, and that contradiction I find interesting.”

These pictures are full of movement, with spinning circles, waving striped flags and curving organic shapes pitted against more static elements.
“Some of the shapes accelerate and some slow down,” says Mueller, who also likes to play with space in a three-dimensional versus a flat look.
The titles are deliberately obscure.

“All of us know these visual elements since we’re children and we’re exposed to this way of expressing visual ideas. I wanted elements of narrative and many different possible narratives and throwing the work aggressively at the viewer.”

Living in the United States, he is aware of a level of violence that is “very, very upsetting.”

However, violence is not restricted to the U.S. It’s “the whole state of things in general. We all know it’s an aggressive world out there. I’m interested in political aggression, social aggression.”

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