Marc Mulders

Tilburg NL 1958, lives and works in Oirschot

The oeuvre of Marc Mulders is determined by what may very well be the great theme in the history of art: the endless cycle of life and death. The expression of living and dying, death and resurrection, has long held a central place in Western painting, and Marc Mulders has deliberately situated himself in the midst of that tradition. In series of paintings he develops these themes and explores their pictorial potential. His way of doing this is by no means objective or purely observational, but extremely engaged and charged with meaning.  Painting is a form of immersion for Mulders, and his expressive, thickly painted canvases are the results of his grappling with the subjects as well as with the matter into which he transforms them. For his ultimate concern is that the cycle of life and death continues in the painting: that the paint, as dead matter, becomes a living image.

In Mulders’s early works, one often sees  motifs that stem directly from the Christian religious tradition: the image of Christ suffering, the crucifixion, the crown of thorns and the Pietà. Many times he also refers to the work of artists for whom he has great admiration from a painterly point of view: Rembrandt, Mantegna, Dürer and Grünewald.

Christian iconography has provided Mulders with recognizable symbols for the human drama, for suffering and the hope of deliverance. His references and visual quotations do not mean, however, that he simply looks back nostalgically upon a lost religiosity in art. On the contrary, painting has lost none of the strength by which it comments on the world. Mulders constantly gives current relevance to the traditional images and meanings by relating them to contemporary society, to the violence in war zones or in the suburbs of large cities that the media show us every day. 

The paintings with more pronounced religious themes are followed by series of paintings with images of flowers and dead game, fish and fowl. Mulders paints the game not as tableaux in the classical sense of hunting still lifes or as macabre depictions of flesh and blood. His aim is not so much to render, but rather to transform the ended life into a dynamic image. The beauty of the body and the skin are reborn, as it were, in the paint. The game – skinned, splayed or hung from a hook – reflects our own fragile corporality. Through the intensity of painting, wet into wet and layer upon layer, there arises an almost physical relationship between the subject and the depiction. In Mulders’s own words: ‘the flesh becomes paint, and the paint becomes flesh.’

In contrast to inescapable mortality, however, the artist also shows the beauty of life, and the paintings of Mulders are often shamelessly beautiful. The impasto paint jumps off the canvas, the colors radiate gloriously or, on the contrary, remain hidden in splendid nuances; brushstroke and line execution vibrate with energy and expression. The still lifes with flowers verge on the aesthetic. Buds, calyxes and stamens loaded with pollen attest to the sensuality of life. But this splendor also has an ephemerality that makes us aware of our own transience, as Mulders paints his bouquets in all phases of blossom and decay. He paints life as it bursts open, and he captures the moment at which it lays itself to rest.