Carter Mull

by BJ Panda Bear

“Televisuality.” It’s a word I’d not heard until Carter Mull dropped it in his studio. But in that hot afternoon of a room, brimming over with sliced and diced photographs, prints, skins, paints, paintings, collages, assemblages, broken jewelry, and garment racks, it made perfect sense. Not telegenic, as in looking good on TV. Televisual, as in his work being inherently predisposed to its own dissemination. Neither a specific aesthetic nor medium, televisuality is a quality d’esprit. For Mull, it generates an omnivorous and eccentric conceptual and material approach to consuming and producing cultural artifacts and images. 

In his influential but unfinished essays from 1927-1940, collected in The Arcades Project, cultural critic Walter Benjamin wrote, “Something different is disclosed in the drunkenness of passion: the landscape of the body. These landscapes are traversed by paths which lead sexuality into the world of the inorganic. Fashion itself is only another medium enticing it still more deeply into the universe of matter.” Mull reads a lot of Walter Benjamin, actually, and it’s important to him that he create works of art which not only depict and document but self-consciously embody the most salient and synthetic aspects of the zeitgeist—because that is or ought to be or at least always used to be the primary function of art. So that’s some of what’s going on in Mull’s mind. 

What’s going on in his studio, a second-floor expanse next to a raucous auto shop in a gritty industrial strip on the eastern fringes of downtown? Mostly preparations for an upcoming show at a Boyle Heights art space called ‘Rainbow in Spanish,’ for which Mull is toiling away on a series of mixed media works and design elements for a wall environment. This is where all his reading, systems theory studies, social theatre, and deconstruction of cultural memes comes into direct contact with his inclusive and tactile studio practice, rooted in the appreciation of a certain rough materiality, a synthetic high/low visual lexicon, and good old-fashioned love for gesture, sizzle, and shine. 

Incorporating cotton, plastic, paint and sundry in a montage and bricolage process, Mull appreciates with equal gusto the optics of photographs, inkjet, handwork, print-making, augmentation, mediation, transformation, transference, and other spontaneous technological or organic interventions. There is also a great deal of distressed reflective mylar, and so we talk about Warhol for a second and the appeal of futuristic industrial materials and also disco parties. In fact, a bit of the spirit of Warhol hovers in the ether, in the way Mull assertively makes no distinction between high art and popular culture, nor between art, music, and fashion. Anything could happen at any time, and it would all be really real. Warhol also watches approvingly as Mull enacts a certain para-couture project in which he dresses his friends up in his handmade clothes and takes their pictures. 

That’s a project that started outside Mull’s studio walls, as he explored his weird neighborhood’s creative community, his mind set aflame by its denizens, who would become his friends and muses. Here they blast Power-106 all day and host underground clubs all night. He explains that, starting in about 2012, this area became the epicenter of a particular music and fashion trend, a new source for the raw style that gets made into popular culture further upstream by the truly famous. Mull credits one such muse in particular—Alanna Pearl, whom he met working at the neighborhood pizza place—with inspiring his own interest in the merger of fashion and art, prompting him to take his first pictures of people. The cross-platform collaborations that have since ensued comprise their own unique objects and images, and have found their way into larger montage works as elements of complicated compositions. 

Throughout this process, even as Mull is deeply engaged in the visceral process of making art, the language that articulates the relationship between material and images is never far from his mind. The difference between what images physically are and what their content in itself conveys is as intriguing a subject for Mull as the way a photograph looks when it’s layered with scanned action painting and hung next to a metallic panel affixed with gold chains. It’s all about triangulating the position of the maker in relation to the algorithm of the cultural system, the better to undertake and track the structure of its circulation. In this, Mull plans to begin with himself. 

What’s going on in the future is the next phase of his own long-term archive project; what will likely be a decade-long endeavor to create his own archive. Since 2004, he considers his work as adhering to three main categories: fashion/lifestyle, news/appropriation, and the documentary impulse. For a long time, he’s been taking photographs of newspapers, in an effort to understand how they help construct our shared idea of the world—or, at least, how they once did. The obsolete promise of a common cause and shared facts, a discourse engendered within an agreed-upon framework of trust and truth—Mull laments this entropy, as many do. What he is setting out to prove is whether art and aesthetics can step in and fill that role: creating commonality. That premise is central to Mull’s creative inquiry and to the structure of his future archive—the imperative to analyze the information, yes, but more so the systems by which it is delivered, because it is inescapably within that system that people produce their culture. These people. This culture. 


Written by Shana Nys Dambrot

Photographer: Carter Mull x Eye Eye Productions.

Model: Jensen Fairchild.

Stylist: Zane Householder. 

Hair & Make up: Mynxii White using Temptu at Opus Beauty.