Our Issue 3 Cover by John Mulvany

We are proud to present the art that will form the cover of Issue 3: Iron Age by Austin artist John Mulvany (now in the collection of Jon Windham). We met John through the East Austin Studio Tour and are so lucky to share his work with our readers. Below is additional information about John, including a short interview. Please support his beautiful work and that of other Austin artists! 


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John Mulvany is an artist and art educator originally from Ireland who has been living and working in Austin for fifteen years. He has taught art for twenty years and is currently the head of the Fine Arts Program at The Khabele School in Austin. He graduated from the College of Art, Design and Print in Dublin, Ireland with a fine art degree and also has a degree in art and design education from the Crawford College of Art in Cork, Ireland. In 2009, he was featured in the Texas Biennial and nominated as best artist by the Austin Visual Arts Association. Among the galleries where he has exhibited his work are GrayDUCK gallery, The Dougherty Arts Center in Austin, Texas Lutheran University, and Galleri Urbane in Marfa. He lives in East Austin with his wife, Monique, and his two sons. 


Q&A with John Mulvany

1.  When and how did you become interested in painting? I had always been interested in art—particularly drawing—since I was a child but did not really become interested in painting until I went to art school in Dublin, Ireland. I had a very influential teacher, Patrick Graham, who painted in an expressionistic style, which at that time did not appeal to me, but his philosophy of art and painting has stuck with me over the years.

2.  How would you describe your artistic style or point of view? My paintings are figurative, and I have always painted using figurative elements. My work used to be much more naturalistic, but in the last ten years or so it has evolved into some hybrid of naturalism, magic-realism, folk art, and abstraction. I have been painting ghosts for several years—mainly as a visual metaphor for memory. Having moved to the US from Ireland about fifteen years ago, my paintings began to incorporate elements from Irish culture and personal history, and I juxtaposed this with elements from my new home environment. I don’t believe in ghosts myself, but my artwork certainly does.

Having grown up in a culture where religious belief was entrenched and unavoidable, my paintings began to reflect my erosion of faith in religious institutions. There are several strands in my work originating from various points in history, in art and from ancient and contemporary cultures. In my paintings, I try to draw parallels between ancient, superstitious ideas on how the world, nature, and the universe work and our own time. My work reflects on the past in the context of our supposedly advanced society, which oftentimes seems to be regressing, particularly with the recent upswing in hostility towards science, education, rationality, and humanism.

3.  Who are some of your favorite contemporary artists, or artists who have influenced you the most? I like a lot of art from the past, particularly 14th Century Byzantine and Early Renaissance painters like Giotto and Duccio. I am also interested in Latin American folk art, particularly Mexican ex-votos and American outsider artists like Henry Darger and Howard Finster. Other artists whose work I like are Francis Bacon, Hughie O’ Donoghue, Neo Rauch, Peter Doig, Sarah Raphael, and Kiki Smith. My work has also been heavily influenced by musicians like Tom Waits and Nick Cave and filmmakers like the Coen Brothers and Martin Scorcese.

4.  If you couldn't paint or teach art for a living, what would you be doing? If I was not painting or teaching, I would probably be cooking for a living. I have always enjoyed cooking and have often thought I would like to do that professionally. I was involved in music for several years in Ireland and that seemed like it would be a profession for a while. I did not have the talent and commitment that my fellow musicians had, however, and art-making was always something that I could do very well.

5.  What is it like being an artist in Austin? Has it changed in the last few years? Austin is a great city to live in, but visual art has always seemed to take a back seat to music and film. During the time that I have lived here there seems to be two levels of opportunities for artists to show work: the start-up, warehouse-style or temporary venues and the museums. There is very little in-between those extremes for artists to develop sustainable careers. There are a few galleries like GrayDUCK where Jill Schroeder does consistently good shows for emerging artists and Wally Workman, which is an older, more established gallery. Big Medium has done a great deal to advance visual arts in the city with the increasingly successful East Austin Studio Tour, the Texas Biennial, and Canopy. Sean Gaulager at Co-Lab has offered opportunities for exhibitions for many new artists. Overall though, making a living as a visual artist in Austin is not easy, but there are a lot of people working to create the conditions in which this could improve.  

6.  Who are your favorite authors? There are several authors who have been influential personally and in my work. Cormac McCarthy is a writer whose use of language and imagery is unparalleled. Blood Meridian and The Border Trilogy have been very influential in my work. Other authors I love are John Mc Gahern, Patrick McCabe, Elmore Leonard, George Saunders, Richard Ford, and Donna Tartt.