With her new series of paintings entitled “Gold for the Price of Silver,” Jenny Mullins explores the beauty and decay of the comfortable American life. In Stag, the namesake lies on the ground pierced with parking reflectors as arrows, his stomach torn open spilling a cornucopia of flowers and detritus. Empty Chinese takeout boxes, a banana peel, that old Nokia phone you have in a drawer somewhere, and an empty can of organic soda (avoiding the obvious CocaCola), and a dead rat, all mingle with a cascade of air fresheners, peonies, and lilies. Whether real or fake, the flowers are rendered beautifully- as is the spilling trash. Terror and disgust are handled so deftly by Mullins, that our experience of them here is actually quite lovely. This is not a shortcoming. It is, in some ways, a more accurate representation of her subject. Moreover, this subtle treatment is what saves the work from being the standard didactic indictment of the privileged gallery goer. With such work, the viewer is typically repelled, or at best (or worse?), taken for a brief cathartic moment of “caring.” Here we are not just given those clichés. The images linger with you, not because they are abject, but because they are beautiful; we want to spend time with them, and will invite those images back to our mind to consider them further.
Most unsettling in the image is the stag’s expression. It is one of suffering, but there is also a trace of shame. Though violent, at least there is some dignity in being killed by a wolf, as in the Antoine-Louis Barye sculpture referenced here. This death by suburbia is embarrassing.
We are again confronted with animals in Royal Pine and Morning Fresh, each a portrait of a wolf with titles taken from the air freshener hanging from each of their necks. Hung on opposing walls, one wolf ferociously bears his teeth, the other lays placidly, seemingly content with domesticated life. The wolves are objects of our consideration and perhaps victims of our lifestyle, but they are also characters that we may project ourselves into. There is an easy disdain for the demure animal, and we can instead fantasize for a moment that we are instead that strong, snarling wolf - sincere and pine fresh.