There is a fabulous show at the Grey Art Gallery at NYU: Lee Mullican, An Abundant Harvest of the Sun. This show is great for reasons other than I imagined it would be. Born in Chickasha, Oklahoma in 1919, Lee Mullican was drafted by the US Army Corps of Engineers and didn't truly start showing art until after the end of WWII. Stationed in Honolulu during the war, he often had free time to frequent the library. There he saw the magazine DYN, an art magazine that would have a huge impact on his future interests and responses to the world. DYN was published 6 times in Mexico City, from 1942-44, by ex-Surrealist Wolfgang Paalens. Collecting prose and imagery on tribal art, metaphysical and spiritual ideas, surrealism and Zen Buddhism, this magazine ignited Mullican's visual pursuits and would lead to his moving to San Francisco and showing with Paalens. Making art in an era where form was still the foremost test of your artistic intent, Mullican infused metaphysical and spiritual pursuits in his artwork through obsessive brush work and repetitive mark making. In contrast to the bursting of paint tubes and pint glasses in New York City's art scene of the 1950's, this uniquely Californian response to the largeness of the world was quiet, meditative and flying the freak flag.
At the same time, in the Marin County woods, Elsa Gidlow had left New York City behind to inadvertently start a loose community of artists, woodworkers, musicians, writers and fellow free thinkers including Zen Buddhism high priest Alan Watts and his like. Erik Davis wrote a great article about this scene for an issue of Arthur magazine. Having lived on the East
Coast for most of my life, it was a fascinating read on the back-to-nature search, that for us on the East Coast means GO back to rural, whereas for the Left Coast it feels more like BE the rural, since in 1950's/60's West Coast there was so much more nature out there than here. What's also interesting, is that all of this California flying of the freak flag came before the late 1960's hippie movement, which most people inaccuratley see Woodstock as the highlight of. It also left me wondering how the recent revival of musical folk-as-indy-sentiment is linked to this search for metaphysical meaning or enlightenment....So you can see why this show is great for reasons other than I imagined when I walked through the door. Go see it.