Maureen Mullarkey at George Billis

Joseph's Coat

Maureen Mullarkey, Joseph’s Coat, collage, 8″ x 10″; courtesy the artist

* * *

It’s tempting to want to pin down a connection between the writing and art of Maureen Mullarkey, whose collages are the subject of an exhibition at George Billis Gallery. An art critic for The New York Sun, Ms. Mullarkey brings a rare and probing delicacy to her craft; few of her peers (including this one) are capable of sussing out artistic particulars with as much clarity, consideration and patience. Ms. Mullarkey’s collages are pieced together from scraps of antiquarian books: Covers, pages, bindings and end papers.

A literary bond between the respective disciplines is patent, but the comparison only goes so far. For Ms. Mullarkey, old books are repositories dense with memory. Only a deeply cultured person could tear one up so tenderly. Not for nothing is the show titled Gutenberg Elegies. Ms. Mullarkey also loves books because they’re rectangular–the grid serves as an organizing principle. Her materials are allowed to assert their origins somewhat–we can pick out Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, the mischievous faces of Max and Moritz and a found letter written by Rose and sent to Dorothy. These worn and tattered bits-and-pieces are orchestrated into contrapuntal rhythms and relationships.

Ms. Mullarkey revitalizes her books by transforming and renewing their function in the world. In the collages, deliberation and spontaneity work in tandem. Textures and patterns are exquisitely juxtaposed: Fragments of a map, a page from a German tome and a pattern of snaking vegetation achieve a subtle correspondence. Through touch, the past makes itself felt in the present. Ms. Mullarkey relates the story of a librarian stroking his collection, murmuring to it with love and gratitude. These same feelings course through her own quietly joyous art.

© 2007 Mario Naves

Originally published in the February 26, 2007 edition of The New York Observer.

Postscript:  Archives of Mullarkey’s essays, reviews and opinions can be found at her invaluable blog, Studio Matters.

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