Coffee + Art + Friends : Lloyd McMullen



Artist • Secret Keeper • Feelings Painter

I’ll read something or I’ll see something and that will get me going on a train of thought. It is true that as I am working, it just kind of feeds itself. I don’t get burnt out on doing Art, except when I am working on a show and I have to keep going back upstairs to do a layer, because I work in these multiple layers and they have to dry thoroughly in between. So, I’ll be up at two in the morning, running up to put on another layer.

I remember having an argument with a gallery years and years ago. I used to do landscapes and I used to do these portraits of chairs. They were very popular. I sold stuff. I thought “Aha! I’m an artist!” Then, I decided to do some found object assemblies. The gallery owner said “I don’t want this, I want that.” He was telling me what to do. I told him, “You’re my gallery owner. You can tell me I can’t sell that. You can say look elsewhere, because that’s a conversation.” You’re not going to tell me what to do. I need to do new things, because otherwise it doesn’t feel like Art anymore.

I was teaching and we had Bill Hoppe as a guest artist. He’s so great. We were making these big assemblage of tomato baskets covered with newsprint soaked in wood glue. The kids were then going to decorate them and we were going to hang big pods and interact with the dancers and it was this big performance art piece. So, he comes in and he’s trying to get the glue paper to stick to the tomato basket and he says “Gosh, I hope this works. I’ve never tried it before.” And he’s teaching the kids! And I was like, “Uh, Bill maybe that’s something you should’ve done. You shouldn’t tell the kids that.”  And he’s so quick. He’s so smart. He said, “Well, Art is the act of creation. Everything else is repetition.” I just took that to heart. That is so true about Art. You can’t continue to always do the same things or you’ll feel like its a schtick, like Thomas Kincaid.

As Artists, we have to grasp every moment. I was thinking you know, it’s not a career. There’s no reviews with your boss. There’s no job security. There’s no financial security. If you make a sale, great! That’s no guarantee that you will continue to make them. No health plan. No retirement plan. No peer reviews. No structure of moving up the ladder. You are alone in your studio with your Artwork.

So you of course have these incredible ups and downs. You think “Yeah! Yeah!” And then you take it to a show and you think “Oh, what if I’m wrong?” It’s this whole private secret language that you’re putting out there. And you’re just hoping someone else can look at it long enough to figure out what you are saying. The rewards are so few and far between. I love it when I have a show and people tell me that they love my artwork. I’m not going to say I don’t love that, but for christ’s sake, buy a painting!

I love so much artwork that I can’t afford. I get that people can’t afford it. But consider it. Instead of buying designer sheets or going out to dinner, you could buy an original print. There’s ways in which we can support our artists.

Really, one of the gifts of art is culture. How do we define what has come before us? Let’s look at the dark ages and the renaissance. If people didn’t have patrons in the Renaissance would we see that? Would there be a Sistine Chapel? Would we see that? What would have happened? Like Van Gogh, thank God, he had a brother that could support him. People love his work now, but at the time it was too scary. Pregnant women couldn’t go see the show. It was hard. There was a block for them.

My favorite thing about Art is that it transforms. Everything! How you look at the world. Personally it’s transforming. Culturally it’s transforming. Physically it’s transforming. And if people take the time to engage in Art then they are transformed by it. And its a method of communication for people who can not speak in words.

I remember there was a kid in one of the classes I used to volunteer in. And we would butt heads. It was just impossible for me to communicate with him, because he just wasn’t linked-in in the same way. But I remember one day, we had a project we were drawing on the playground. We were drawing leaves and he had this fit about not drawing leaves. “Well, what do you want to draw?” “I want to draw cars.” “Great— draw cars.” And in drawing the cars, we could have a conversation. He could find a way into the world again, to be a communicator with us. I feel Art is like this magical language of color and memory. So, it feels like that part of Art is transformative.

For me personally, I was not driven by career choices. I graduated in a career in journalism. But I did it right at the time that Woodward and Bernstein were big news so jobs were very difficult to come by in the writing world. I wanted to do editing and I couldn’t get into the editing course. I didn’t want to go back and get my graduate degree, so I took an Art class. It opened up in my mind all these parts of me that never fit in. I figured out “Oh, that’s why.” I don’t want to talk about my feelings, I want to paint my feelings. I don’t want to share every secret with you. I want to tell you things in a way that demands you listen to them so that it becomes about you instead of me. I hide words in my paintings. There’s so many layers in my paintings where I put things in there. Sometimes, I paint words where its actually there or I flip the words and put them there.

I did this piece for a show a couple years ago in Canon Beach called “Changing Nature”. It was about the butterfly effect, that every action, no matter how small has consequences. So, we created bugs and birds out of found objects. I had this piece where I melted a milk carton into butterfly wings and put it on this weird piece of a piano that I found. I put bone antlers as the wings. I had this article on cutting the Redwoods out of National Geographic. But I didn’t want that to be what people looked at so I flipped it, put it upside down and did an image transfer on it. And the guy who bought the piece said “I can’t read it.” Well, that’s the point, the words are there and you’ll get the words, but the piece is about more than words. It’s more than what I can say to you. Art is more than what I can say. He told me “I’m going to buy it so I can hang it upside down and read it.” And he did! He bought it! The trick is, you can only hang it one way– the way I made it! Also, I layered those words so there was no way you could read it. But I loved that he wanted to make sense of written message. And he got it, but it was a funny conversation.

I love it when I can stand near someone and I can hear them describing my artwork to someone else, like they are telling a story. Early on, I had these paintings of my studio and it was like orange walls, my walls are actually white. But orange walls, blue squares for windows, just reducing it down to essentially what the light is in the studio. That’s what my take-a-way is. And then I have a purple floor, so just these geometric shapes. And there was a family coming through and the young daughter was explaining to her parents what things were. She got to mine and she goes “Hmmm, Studio, Early Morning. Hmmm, I guess its before she had her coffee.” It might have been true, but there is more to it than that. But I loved that. She literally wanted to think how is this rectangle with two squares on it a studio? How does it become that?

I think as artists we take things in so completely to heart. Because you are doing everything so completely.

I remember after a drawing lesson, and I saw the power lines. Suddenly, I recognized how the lines bisect the sky in uniform and color. You know? I could see things so differently, just a power line. Like how shadows form on the ground. They are so beautiful and so powerful. And it is so great when someone sees a painting you have done and they’re like “Oh, I love seeing shadows.”

So many ways you can look at things. I do think as artists we are— I don’t want to say we feel more. I do think its hard not to be depressed. The world is such a hard place and I don’t want to be in the hard place, so I make Art.