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Refreshed Traditions: Rachael Mullins and Jeanne O’Melia at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center PDF Print E-mail
Art - Reviews
Wednesday, 14 February 2007 02:46

Rachael Mullins - The work of two artists now showing at the MidCoast Fine Arts Gallery in LeClaire could easily be called The Old World Made New and All Creatures Great & Small.

Rachael Mullins has taken images and fabric pieces from her grandmother's world and combined them into a subdued musical homage. Splashes of quickly brushed paint over antique-looking fabric form the background for stencil-like images from women's magazines of a half-century ago.

Jeanne O'Melia has used papier-mâché, a children's medium, to form loose and playful constructions of 12 colorful, ancient Chinese zodiac animals.

The women share the upstairs gallery at the Mississippi Valley Welcome Center in LeClaire. An opening reception for the show will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. on Friday, February 16, and the exhibit continues through March 30.

At first, Mullins' 14 paintings seem dim and smoky with nostalgia. On an antique-fabric wallpaper design, colorful flowers and fanciful leaves weave behind thin white and silver painted lines describing objects such as a palomino pony and a child's pinwheel. Thick applied embroidery merges with a perfume atomizer, the diagram for a hoop-skirt mannequin, the collars of an antique dress, and various inventions by women. We see images of stenciled birds flying across space and a mother planting a garden with her daughter. Wallpaper designs and sewing play through all the pictures.

In Birdsong Suite, colorful provincial flowered patterns run up and down the background. An applied thick weaving adds a symbol of formal decoration. Over a loosely brushed white ground, a young girl sits on a rug on her floor watching a black bird in a large, round birdcage. Both inhabit a highly structured world that restricts and gives safety.

In Reclamation, on elegant fabric wallpaper the artist has drawn, with thin silvery lines, a well-dressed mother teaching her two young daughters to sew. She leans over to check the work of her oldest. Thick applied stitching crosses the painting near the portraits. The figures seem to be stenciled in, one among others, as symbols fulfilling a role. Yet they seem content.

Mullins is observing, in a kind way, the assumed roles of women in "modern" society. She writes in her artist's statement that she had always resisted those domestic duties and "women's roles" as a young girl. But now she has an increasing admiration for the lives of those women who had gone before her.

Mullins' images produce a kind of quiet, layered music rising and falling, and suddenly surfacing like remembered conversations from the past. Each part of the picture evokes memories and meanings both personal and universal. The accumulation of these layers gives the images a gentle and almost melancholy power. The artist has combined the tensions of longing and freedom, of past and present, of realism and painterly abstraction in each work.

Jeanne O'Melia - From a long conversation with the artist, I discovered that Jeanne O'Melia has always been interested in the Chinese culture - its quietness and respect for family, the formality of its society, the tea ceremony, and especially its poetry. From this deep attraction she has created her own zingy and whimsical papier-mâché versions of 12 of the cyclical zodiac animals of the Chinese years.

All are made with armatures of balloons and wadded-up paper, covered with newspaper strips dipped in flour with boiled water for transparency, painted with acrylic and then embellished with some Chinese letters and glued bar codes. All the creatures are containers with openings somewhere near the top. All are delightful and childlike.

In Wise Snake, the reptile of O'Melia's birth year curls around a large, pale, round cylinder, with a gymnast on top. She said that she hopes to place her ashes in this one when she passes. In Clever Monkey, a black, long-armed primate with red stripes and a long tail scratches its mischievous head. A row of bar codes describes the long hair around its face. Faithful Dog is decorated with black and white newspaper clippings of car advertisements and stands on a large, rounded jar covered in countless bar codes, a few in color. He seems ready to go for a ride.

These happy creatures from an unknown circus seem content and friendly, ready to leap into a schoolroom of children. The pink Intelligent Pig smiles sweetly with cutouts from candy-bar wrappers, and the large, brown Strong Steady Ox, with sparkling blue-striped horns, seems ready to play. Many of the animals look like her family members, O'Melia said. The artist has used a child's medium to turn the universal into something fun.

This is a reflective yet spirited show in which the works of both artists, filtered through their intelligent personalities and widely gathered ideas and interests, materialize before us as mileposts of their continuous journey. The works are not meant to change us or overwhelm us with a new technique, but are instead expressions of the artists' own evolving sensibilities, to be shared, enjoyed, and remembered.

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