Johan Van Mullem
Johan Van Mullem, an unassuming Belgian painter, was initially reluctant to discuss his work. He quite rightly believed that it could stand alone - unaccompanied by verbiage - offering viewers the chance of an unadulterated personal experience. More recently, Van Mullem has begun to talk, revealing an artist of genuine intellect and sensibility: his portraits are a maelstrom of oil based ink that capture the essence of personality, emotion and introspection.
Drawing from his subconscious and stored somatic information, Van Mullem attempts to reconstruct the soul and essence of man. Although his works are not strictly self-portraits, they do reflect his purest desires, thoughts, and feelings. His 2016 show at Unit London, De Anima, literally means ‘on the soul’, conveying ‘the idea developed by Aristotle that the soul is the form or essence of any living thing, and not a distinct entity separate from the body’. He works with oil based inks on wooden boards and canvases to render luminous figures whose features are enriched by dark earth-toned backgrounds. Whilst influenced by the haunting portraits of Francis Bacon, Francisco Goya, and Johannes Vermeer, Van Mullem does not look to the art historical canon for guidance. He states that his own methodology and sphere of influence are primarily dependant on his own emotional experiences.
Growing up in the Congo, the influence of the African mask has infiltrated Van Mullem’s work. The idea of the mask as a form of totemic protection or disguise is hinted at in his expressionistic, obscured portraits that eschew detail and point to the dynamism of the spirit beyond. Van Mullem says,‘"The faces are just a symbol needed to express and possibly reflect the viewer's own soul. The soul itself is a deeply buried treasure. It is something we all have, but that we rarely visit."
Van Mullem’s work can be found in public and private collections internationally, including collections in Brussels, London, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles and at the Musee d’Ixelles in Belgium. He has most recently exhibited at Museum at Ciurlionis National Museum in Lithuania and Musée d’Art Classique Mougins in France. Van Mullem returned to Unit London for his second solo show, Reverence, curated by esteemed collector Christian Levett in March 2019.