Long sheets of painted acrylic squares are draped over tables in the art room, squares that, once dry, are awash with colors and patterns unique to each maker.
Visiting artist Larry Mullins, father of sophomore Maya Mullins, met Ojai Valley School art teacher Chia Hersk on the first day of school when he dropped off Maya. Since then, there has been an open channel of communication between the two, and a mutual agreement that Mr. Mullins should come back as a visiting artist.
The plans were finally set into motion the Monday after spring break.
Mr. Mullins is professional artist by trade. He describes himself as a process artist, which emphasizes the actual process of creating art rather than embarking with a set plan or end goal. He allows the work to move him along.
“I don’t start with drawings, I start with an idea or even just a notion about what it is that I want,” Mr. Mullins said. “Then I start putting things down on the paper or canvas, most all the work that I do is completely intuitive.”
He listens to his art – to him, it is a conversation. His pieces are abstract and combine many elements of design, color, and shape.
“It’s always a process of looking, thinking, painting, editing, reworking and then painting again,” Mr. Mullins said. “And that process can repeat itself six, seven, eight, nine times. Sometimes everything that gets put down eventually gets submerged in the layer going overtop of it.”
His observational and layered style is reflected in the work he did with the art students. Focusing on oil skins, each student layered acrylic patterns down onto plastic sheeting and later added more layers of paint, thus making acrylic skins.
Mr. Mullins spent class and elective time with the four students in Ms. Hersk’s Advanced Studio Art class, helping them build up personal complexity in their acrylic skins. Most squares will be part of students’ individual visions, but some will contribute to a collective, class-wide piece.
While Mr. Mullins’ current professional work and his work with students demonstrates a slower, step-by-step approach to making art, this style has not always been his go-to.
While living in Virginia, Mr. Mullins had a following in the street art world. Inspired by artists like Keith Haring, he was attracted to the immediacy and impermanence of street art, and the instant connection he had with people who passed him working.
Mr. Mullins’ time working with the rhythm, flow, and fast-paced lifestyle has influenced his personal style. He joins language with the abstract, and he showed the students ways to connect stationary art with freeform movement.
“He encouraged us to see relationships between shape and color and how they can interact with each other,” said sophomore Wendy Lazo-Dowdy. “He showed us how to get different flows with different mediums.”
Heading into class as a visiting artist, Mr. Mullins’ aim was to open new doors for students to explore, and to give them the tools to do so.
“I focus on principles and elements of design, ways to create depth, and ways to make your picture have motion, quality of line, and color,” Mr. Mullins said. “[I was hoping to] pass on some ideas about technique and approach and most importantly to give them the parts to create a whole.”
Ms. Hersk had similar goals.
“I just wanted the students to get something out of it,” she said. “It’s always fun to bring in visiting artists, because they get so used to you and then you bring in someone else that has new ideas [and] a new way of teaching and it totally inspires them.”
Within the three day visit, the students laid down the foundation for their designs and began to make the pieces they would build into their final project. About a week later, their works are almost completed and will be displayed in a collective series. Each student’s piece and the whole class piece are coming together to form a story – a spectrum of unique, creative wavelengths working together.
Art provides a window into the mind that is not found anywhere else in life. It is a way to bare the soul without physically staring someone in the eye and telling them, “this is me.” Art provides a way to connect mentally and to almost tangibly link hearts, a connection that doesn’t come easily. It has to be worked, weathered and honed. You learn who you are as it grows, and you find parts of yourself along the way.
As Mr. Mullins aptly put it, “Painting has a certain kind of wisdom that you develop, you grow, you learn.”Share