Shirley Mulligan began painting flowers on porcelain in 1975 and while she has branched out in medium, her new exhibit at the Vienna Arts Society Gallery shows that she is still very inspired by the rose.
"That’s the queen of porcelain,” said Mulligan, co-director of the gallery and this month’s featured Vienna Arts Society member. “I really like painting them because they are my favorite flowers.”
While Mulligan still considers porcelain one of her favorite mediums, the amount of time and energy the form consumes taught her to try other styles.
"You have to fire it in a kiln three or four times — it takes longer than anything," said Mulligan. "The electricity goes up. You have to put more time in it than anything but get less back. People look them and see 'a plate is a plate is a plate.'"
MULLIGAN'S CURRENT SHOW at the gallery, "Paintings From the Heart," which runs through Jan. 7, displays the artist's diversion from porcelain — including a number of abstract pieces. Each style, Mulligan explained, begins with different preparation for painting on canvas.
For her watercolors, Mulligan explains that a sketch of the subject helps her put paint to canvas.
"I do a light sketch — I don't like to draw it in because it's too tight," she said. "I like to have an idea of the direction I'm going in. With pastel, though, I just make a few marks."
"Birch Tree Forest" is one pastel that stands out, with very tight lines broken by the sharp contrast of blue and yellow flora.
"I worked on that for weeks and then got tired of it," Mulligan joked. "Some go faster than others. I think watercolors go the fastest."
But not all of Mulligan's art is nature-centric. Mixed in with the flowers, forests and a picturesque piece titled "Daybreak," are a number of abstracts which show how far Mulligan has ventured from the set form of porcelain.
"Sometimes I love to do abstracts," said Mulligan. "You do a tight painting like 'Birch Forest' and then it's fun to do abstracts. I like doing them because I tend to paint tight and they loosen me up."
Mulligan chooses strong colors for her abstracts, impressive considering they are watercolors — a medium which typically produces more muted colors.
"To me it's about the color," she said. "I don't like abstracts unless there is a lot of color. The less water, the stronger the paint."
“I like each medium for something different,” she continued. “It goes from oil to pastel. I like mixing it up and I like painting.”
Mulligan explained that her education in different forms of painting came from two channels — classes during her annual winter vacations to Florida and the Vienna Arts Society.
"Years ago I was in a watercolor class and the Vienna Arts Society invited people to see the Faberge Eggs in Richmond," she said. "That must have been 10-12 years ago."
NOW A CO-DIRECTOR of the gallery, Mulligan says that her primary duty involves hanging member's art exhibits.
"Paintings From the Heart," makes it clear that her interest in art has broadened throughout the years. In the gallery, Mulligan displayed her portfolio, which included a selection of porcelain paintings — a form which she may still return to one day.
"You need 225 watts to plug the kiln in and when I moved I didn't have the hookup," said Mulligan, who moved from Falls Church to Arlington. "But I still have a bookcase of blank china."
— Christopher Staten