Mark Mulroney found the primary inspiration for his artwork—a broad spectrum of paintings, sketchbooks, collages, and sculptures—in the cartoon imagery that pervaded his childhood in rural Southern California. He had been given a once-a-year allowance of sugary cereal on his birthday and developed a certain affinity for the Trix mascot. “I didn’t even care about the cereal—I was after the box. I just knew that me and that rabbit were gonna have some good times together,” Mulroney has recounted. That sense of childlike kinship with imagined characters appears throughout “Yellow Bikini,” his current exhibition at Mixed Greens in New York. While there may seem to be tiny signposts toward darkness or kink in his works, Mulroney aims to convey a hearty optimism about the joys of pop culture, sex, and growing up in the United States.
In his various works, the artist gathers a large cast of comic characters that resurface for new adventures. Batman pervades as a symbolic hero, seen through different lenses and life stages. In Blue Batman (2015), he manifests as a childlike, sloppy abstraction—a sculptural totem—while in Big Batman Drawing (2015), the caped crusader is pulled from ADHD actions in his early comic-book representation, grinning, frowning, and jumping about the composition. Bat Pin-Up #1 (2015) switches up the protagonist, picturing a pinup girl clad in a low-cut version of Batman’s costume. Mulroney samples from a range of sources, from the illustrational style of cartoonists such as R. Crumb to toy design to carnival kitsch, but he incorporates into his works an awareness of art history and mass media. In pieces such as Symbols of Faith (2015) and Woman and Purple Flowers (2015), a more conceptual hand is in play, and the illustration is juxtaposed with the traditional painters’ tropes of portraiture, minimalism, and symbology.
“Yellow Bikini” is united by a tone of a cheeky deliberation, which comes from the way the works are constantly in dialogue with one another. This may be due to Mulroney’s art-making methods, a practice that leads him to bounce between many projects at once, as can be seen in the show’s accompanying video. Achieving that ever-present aspiration of adults worldwide, Mulroney literally turns work into play, reflecting one of the drawing’s titles: Don’t Worry, It’s Fun (Part 1) (2015).