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Lee Mullican

American
(1919–1998)

The Ninnekah
1951

Oil on linen
54.75 x 29.75 in. (139.065 x 75.565 cm)
Gift of the Marie Eccles Caine Foundation
1994.26

Art was a lifelong transformative pursuit for Lee Mullican. He painted The Ninnekah while he was a member of the short-lived Dynaton group in San Francisco. According to the artist, “What we were involved with was a kind of meditation, and for me this had to do with the study of nature, and the study of pattern, and the study of that sort of thing from which one could receive a meditative response.”

Mullican, Wolfgang Paalen, and Gordon Onslow Ford arrived in the city at roughly the same time in the late 1940s. Their shared interests culminated in the seminal Dynaton exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1951, which included their work alongside objects from their collections of pre-Columbian and Native American artifacts. Out of the Dynaton came the idea that the practice of making art was an exploration of deep levels of being that could open up higher levels of consciousness for all humankind.

The Ninnekah is named for a wild area of Oklahoma, inhabited by the Choctaw people, where Mullican was born and raised. He applied paint to the canvas with the edge of a printer’s knife, building up the surface with thin striations of yellow, orange, and pink that radiate out from a prominently placed sunlike orb. Below lies a quieter orb within a pale teal triangle, perhaps denoting an earthbound locus of cosmic energy.

Mullican also built and painted simple constructions out of scraps of wood that could serve as shields, tribal masks, and other ceremonial objects, as in The Mask (Head)—A Tactile Ecstatic. The subtitle of the sculpture could be applied to Mullican’s entire oeuvre, for there is throughout a sense of ecstatic aliveness.

Susan M. Anderson


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