Nebraska Now: Marlene Mueller, Drawings
October 18, 2008 – January 4, 2009
Teliza V. Rodriguez
In her first major exhibition at the Museum of Nebraska Art, Wayne State College Professor of Art, Marlene Mueller, departs from her colorful pointillist paintings to investigate the nature of fire and its intricacies with charcoal drawings. Into the Ashes marks the first time that this most recent body of work is exhibited together in its entirety. Although the series and medium is a new venture for Mueller, the work retains elements and structures previously tackled in prior works, but offers challenging new aspects for both viewer and the artist.
Into the Ashes consists of ten medium-scale works that, while executed from 2005 to 2008, found their genesis years earlier. Mueller has been an active member of the volunteer fire department in Wayne, Nebraska, and a witness to fire at close range. This series depicts a controlled burn of a farm building – a fire department exercise – which Mueller. The various stages captured by the artist included the initial torching of the structure, the flames engulfing the structure, the collapse, and then the smoldering. Quoting Mueller, “My intent was to observe the transformation of solid matter into ash. The ephemeral elements of flame, water, steam, and smoke provided the foundation of my study.”
In Mueller’s previous work, the artist fragmented the overall compositions by means of pointillism. Scenes in her paintings were entirely composed of larger than normal pointillist circles of various colors of paint that, from a distance, settle into easily recognizable landscapes or objects. With the recent charcoal drawings, Mueller creates the fire scenes in much the same way by approaching the imagery bit by bit – fragmenting the composition to recreate it and, along the way, observing that order and process are present even within seeming chaos. The charcoal drawings are comprised of layer after layer of charcoal, a medium specifically chosen since the use of charred wood “recalled the emotional and sensuous aspects of sight, smell, and temperature. Memories of the hissing and crackling of wood, the roar of flame, and the scent of smoke all evoked the unrelenting power of nature.” Coupling the medium with the artist’s process of fragmentation offers visually complex drawings that are emotional and dramatic in their outcome. While formal concerns direct the artist, greater questions arise such as how structure exists in the smallest objects or processes, and in the middle of something as destructive as fire.
Marlene Mueller, a native of Ohio, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree from Limestone College, Gaffney, South Carolina. She earned a Master of Arts in painting and ceramics and a Master of Fine Arts in painting and drawing from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. Following her graduate work, Mueller came to Nebraska to take a position as Interim Instructor of Art at Hastings College, Hastings, Nebraska. Following the temporary assignment, she accepted a position as Professor of Art at Wayne State College where she continues today. Her work has been included in numerous exhibitions such as the recent Drawing: Selected Works by Norman Geske, Modern Arts Midwest, Lincoln, Nebraska; Local Perspectives, Sioux City Art Center, Iowa; and Objects of Desire, Haydon Art Center, Lincoln, Nebraska. Her work is included in private and public collections such as Duncan Aviation and Nebraska Wesleyan University, both in Lincoln, Nebraska; Springfield Art Museum, Missouri; and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Nebraska.
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