The following is an unedited exchange between painters Desmond Mnyila and Nigel Mullins:
DM: When was the time you first realised you want to pursue painting as your medium of choice?
NM:My father and grandfather are/were both excellent hobby plein air painters. So I grew up with the mystique of old fashioned portable oil paint sets, with their grubby paint tubes, painting knifes and the strong smell of linseed oil. I understood that oil paint could accurate and rough. The art school offered painting, sculpture, graphics or sculpture as separate disciplines, and painting was the only thing that offered the directness of expression which I needed.
DM: You have been a part of contemporary painters in the Eastern Cape and also in SA who have taken the baton from the old so called Romantic painterly tradition of Eastern Cape Landscape Painting. As far as I know , nobody has done that better than you- to bridge the gap and to carry on with painting at a difficult time with many painters choosing multi media and performances . What motivates you to maintain the same passion you had when you first started painting.(I have known about you for more than 20 years and your paintings still inspires and one can’t help but notice the passion you have for this medium and your mastery of your craft).
NM: Thank you! I suppose I have also followed some of those trends, producing a number of stop-frame animations, Fix with outstanding jazz musician, Rick Van Heerden, Earthlings with composer Braam Du Toit, and created my own sound-scapes for Metropolis and What Else Is There? What Else Is there? (these can be seen on Youtube). I have also produced digital prints, interactive sculpture, lithographs and even got very close to producing an entirely internet based artwork. But all of these have either involved oil paint or fed into the concepts that I have explored in paint. My attitude towards paint has also shifted. When I was starting out the romance of sticky oil paint was all I needed, then I went through many years where I aspired to undermine the earnest authenticity of oil paint, and I would say even with my new work (with all its trappings of thick expressive paint) my relationship with paint is dispassionate (at least in comparison to my early years) . The emotional drivers reside not in the act of painting but in the content, in the complexity of the world today. Painting is a way of integrating or reconciling(?) rational thought with emotion. I have also stayed interested by thinking deeply about mark making and optical registers, shifting my techniques and just not being stuck in one style.
DM: I have read about the lives and techniques of many painters and most of them have to throw away some paintings they didn’t like at one time in their career. I have never seen a painting by you that I didn’t like .I have to ask if it did occur to you that you produced a painting at any time that you later didn’t like ?
NM: I have destroyed plenty of work usually soon after making them. There are old works that I look at and say “well it seemed like a good idea at the time,” but cringe at the naivety of the concept and to be frank the clumsiness of the execution. But I think if you are a full time artist you often have to accept your own limitations and produce anyway.
DM: Which artist has had a lasting influence on your work – if any?
NM: Francis Bacon in the first half of my career for his combination of representation and non-representation, and Gerhard Richter, in the second half for his diverse technical strategies. Tanya Poole has had a huge influence over many years, by helping me navigate my conceptual labyrinths.
DM: Who influenced your growth as a painter during your student days at Rhodes University?
NM: Noel Hodnett, my painting lecturer at Rhodes University, and Prof. Robert Brooks the head of the art department at that time.
Born 1969, Nigel Mullins completed his Master of Fine Art degree with distinction at Rhodes University in 1993. He is well known for his diverse exploration of oil painting and stop-frame animation. Mullins has had 20 solo exhibitions in South Africa, Scotland, England, and Germany and has taken part in some 57 group shows. His work has been represented on the Cape Town, Johannesburg, Frankfurt and London Art Fairs and will be included on the 2015 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London.
His work is included in such public and corporate collections as: Rhodes University, ABSA, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan Art Museum, South African Association, SASOL, TELKOM, Rand Merchant Bank, Hollard, Westminster and Chelsea Hospital Collection, Pretoria Art Museum, Sanlam, Nandos UK, Spier and KPMG.
Nigel Mullins lives and works in Grahamstown with his wife Tanya Poole and daughter Sophie.