The first words that occurred to me when I saw the work of Chicago-based artist Ahavani Mullen were ‘calm’ and ‘stirring.’ The more I studied her work, the more these words sunk in, and although seemingly unrelated to one another, they both have a place here. ‘Calm’ came mostly from the colors, which rely on pastel grounds with the powerful hit of bold red or green. But even that is a bit misleading, because there is more to these than meet the eye, and after a moment, ‘calm’ becomes insufficient to completely describe them. That’s where ‘stirring’ came in — a twofold thought, really, as the surfaces appear to be physically stirring, or awakening, and they are also stirring in the emotional sense.
Mullen describes the creation of her work as being anchored in spiritual practice, where reverence for stillness leads to an appreciation of the ability to ‘grow’ the work, to see it from beginning to completion and to embrace the process spiritually. The resulting work, with titles like Evolving and Beginning, allude to floral, earthy forms as much as they seem to embody gentle cosmic movements. Beginning could be the beginning of life of any kind — I automatically thought plant life, suggested by the green, but why stop there? Where we live together is blue, like a sea, or is it a sky? The inability to ‘read’ these paintings so much as try to ‘feel’ them is where I best grasp the spiritual, meditative quality to them.
Mullen utilizes the technique of encaustic paint, a mixture of molten beeswax, damar resin and oil-based pigments. Between layers of encaustic which she fuses with a torch, she layers media like silk, watercolor and beeswax to add optical depth to the surface. That particular ability of encaustic is well used in Mullen’s case, where the physical depth of the surface media expresses the depth to which her ideas–and our spiritual beginnings–go.
Check out the artist’s fantastic site for plenty more information, images, and news on shows at ahavani.com.