In 2016 Unit London presented ‘De Anima’ – a solo exhibition of new paintings and sculptures by Johan Van Mullem. Van Mullem draws on the subconscious to conjure luminous figures and obscured landscapes that surface, as if from the depths, as otherworldly apparitions.
Working with oil-based ink on unprimed boards, vibrant purples and crimson pigments float over charcoal black and earthy yellows. Evoking technology whilst grounded in the earth, his work feels both pristine and primordial. While his rich colour palette and psychological dimension suggest the influence of Francis Bacon, Francisco Goya and Flemish forebear Johannes Vermeer, there is a metaphysical dimension to Van Mullem’s work that recalls William Blake’s haunting fusion of science, nature and spirit. Swirling evocations of amorphous figures are overlaid by Vitruvian Man-like dots that suggest a containing cosmic order or digital matrix. Inner turmoil is acknowledged, contained and measured in Van Mullen’s attempts to divine the essence of man.
While acknowledging the subliminal influence of art historical icons, Van Mullem’s methodology is a wholly unconscious response to momentary psychological states, personal experience and environment. An intensely peripatetic childhood, which included formative years growing up variously in Tunisia, Germany, Sweden and Congo left an indelible impression. The influence of the African mask for instance, as both totemic protection and portal to another dimension, is hinted at in his expressionistic, obscured portraits that eschew detail in favour of connection with the spirit beyond.
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