You begin with everything squeezing, bulging, marching, mirroring, hovering, shapeshifting, being and becoming hair. The scene is uncannily familiar but, dreamlike, it eludes a definitive locating act. An ambiguous black shape becomes steeple, becomes appendage, becomes peaked collared trenchcoat—which compresses two breast-cheeks together and bisects an eye so it becomes two. In another painting, you know it’s not dog-headed twins in tight red jumpsuits that lost boots while trapped in fun-house mirrors, though you can’t help but see it that way over and over.

Mullen’s paintings deal in things that are too easy to see and too easy to name, and too hard to see and too hard to name. They are about ambiguity as it runs into expectations and assumptions. Sometimes they are hard-to-place, other times overt. They are not dark, but they are uncompromising and challenging, the product of a steady gaze into our inner world and the world of the painting itself. Yet they always have a sense of elegance and ease—made just so out of the necessity of forcing figures to comply formally with moves that came before. They are pressurized by their range—sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes suggestive, sometimes humorous, sometimes grotesque—and as they present an excavation of one interior, they sound the depths of ours.

By design and necessity, each step in Mullen’s painting process is unforeseen; she doesn’t sketch beforehand, she actively works to hold space for each move to be a kind of natural and intuitive outgrowth of its ground in that moment—both the ground of the artwork itself and the ground of her interior world. The process verges on oracular and it requires trust. A given painting can have many lives and take many years to complete. The goal is that each emergent move, and eventually the painting itself, be as unique and self-sufficient as possible, such that it can “hold itself.”

Mullen’s paintings hold off naming in favor of a wavering space. They bear the traits of a life-long conversation between friends wherein space is held in the middle, allowing a new language to form, special only to the two. They shirk resolution for perpetual responsiveness: posing new questions, sharing a further insight, making a new joke. Lively and evasive, they operate prepositionally: in response to, in dialog with, alongside of. They are full of half-full symbols—things that can accommodate another name, whose shimmering, polyvalent reality only emerges with time. And so they gently prod us for a prolonged viewing experience that mirrors the searching and patient waiting required in their making. We are asked to trust the painting, abide by it, and hold space for it to unfold.

This brings us to quitting. A quitter holds their own in the face of something else: the status quo, the past, external expectations—like assumptions about how to see, or how to think. A quitter says “no” to something while being in the thick of it. Mullen’s paintings, like the quitter of the team, are about this freedom of self-determination. In a certain way, each painting quits the others, hoping to be the first to announce its independence. Together they form an allegiance of quitters, each with a mind of its own.

—Aschely Cone, March 2022