MATTHEW TROY MULLINS
The title for this show, Teleharmonium, comes from one of the world’s first electronic musical instruments which share the same name. The most famous teleharmonium, played in New York’s Telharmonic Hall, was capable of playing music anywhere in the world that could be reached by a telephone wire (its music was transferred by means of electric signals through wire). Although the instrument’s sound was tinny, it was the first time people were able to use the newly invented telephone to play music and share an experience with people in other parts of the world.
Dissecting the word, “Teleharmonium”, provides an interesting way to see the watercolor paintings and drawings in this show. Tele is a Greek prefix which means “distant”. Combine that with “harmony”, the root word for “harmonium”, and you get something like “harmony from a distance” or “accord/communion from a distance”. It also reflects many of the subjects I paint, the relationship with paintings and those who see them and the entire art-making process, in general. It’s a metaphor for the artist communicating with others over the chasm of time and space, through the creation of an artifact and the mastery of a skill.
Most of the paintings in this show are about artifacts; and our personal and societal urges to keep them and create them. They are about creating and saving artifacts for the possibility of connecting with another person when we are no longer here. The subjects of these paintings are objects that we view as touchstones of certain eras. They are objects that carry the residue of a certain time and place because they are the products of it. These objects, from a variety of times and places, trace human history and reflect human endeavor and ingenuity. They are objects that reflect people’s needs and desires and even reflect how their creators’ envisioned a better world. The subjects in this show generally fall into two loose categories: artifacts (museum basements, storage facilities, greenhouses, collections) and artifact makers (book stitching machines, typewriters).
The particular things that I choose to paint come from my own personal interests, casual internet research and a habit that I have of looking at the world from an anthropological point of view. I believe everything that we make, whether it is art or something banal and mundane; can tell a rich and fascinating story.
Most of my imagery is sourced from photographs that I take while visiting these sites, although I also use images from photo-sharing websites and often incorporate multiple photographic sources into one painting. I paint in a realist style, although I avoid photorealism. I want to be able to see the brushstrokes, the process of creation and all of the imperfections that I believe make the paintings feel more human and accessible. I choose to paint with watercolor for the medium’s ability to record the layers of process and for its fluidity, which I simply enjoy.
The teleharmonium provided an instrument which allowed people to simultaneously experience a composer’s artistic vision over great distances. It brought people together in a shared experience and, in a way, eliminated the distance between them. I see the paintings in this show, and all of the other paintings I make, as my instruments to do the same.
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