Johan Van Mullem returns for his second solo show at Unit London, Reverence. Curated by major art collector Christian Levett, Reverence showcases a series of mesmerising canvases which attempt to reconstruct the soul and essence of man. Although his works are not strictly self-portraits, they do reflect his purest desires, thoughts, and feelings.
Guest curated by Christian Levett, Reverence brings together a collection of works that address themes relating to the exhibition’s title: respect, approbation, worship, awe and adoration. Levett’s art world expertise spans from antiquity to the contemporary, he sits on the board of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and on the Arms and Armour Committee at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Levett founded the MACM (Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins) in Southern France, which houses one of the world’s premier private collections of antiquities. Levett has followed and collected Van Mullem’s work over the past ten years and offers an interesting perspective on the historical influences present in the artist’s works.
“Having actively collected Johan Van Mullen’s work for almost a decade I felt it was important to showcase the breadth of the artist’s practice, with key pieces from his global museum and gallery exhibitions. Reverence presents Johan’s rich aesthetic, drawing together his emotive, dramatic and haunting paintings in one location. I am extremely pleased to be working alongside the artist with Unit London, in order to provide a public platform for this work." - Christian Levett
Influenced by the Aristotelian ideology, that ‘the soul is the form or essence of any living thing, and not a distinct entity separate from the body’, Van Mullem’s figures appear as if they are turned inside out - pouring their innermost feelings on to the canvas. Van Mullem’s ability to capture these provocative and haunting qualities link his work to the portraits of Francis Bacon, Francisco Goya and Johannes Vermeer.
The aesthetic of African masks in Van Mullem’s practice stems from the artist’s formative years spent in the Congo. The idea of the mask as a symbol of protection or disguise is hinted at in Van Mullem’s expressionistic and obscured portraits, which are sculpted to reveal the dynamism of the spirit beyond.
Van Mullem’s technical aptitude and draftsmanship enable the artist to blend artistic methods from across the ages. Van Mullem is able to render luminous figures with the sfumato of a Florentine Renaissance painter, the under-drawing of a 17th-century Flemish master and a self-developed technique of oil-based inks on wooden boards and canvases.
The artist’s varied influences enrich his works with a poignant and evocative uniqueness. A zeitgeist of our time, Van Mullem draws on historical, philosophical and personal inspiration to capture the undefinable experiences that connect humanity.