Born: Newark New Jersey
Studied: Cooper Union
Principal Group Exhibitions:
1957 Whitney Museum of American Art, "American Painters under 35"
1958 Worcester Art Museum, "Some Younger Names"
1959 Whitney Museum of American Art
1960 Philadelphia Academy of Art
1961 Whitney Museum Annual
1963 Whitney Museum Annual
1964 Art Institute of Chicago, "67th Annual American Exhibition"
1965 Whitney Museum Annual
1966 Larry Aldrich Museum, "Brandeis University Creative Arts Awards 1957-66"
1967 University of Illinois Biennial
1994 Paintings-New Jersey Center for Visual Arts
2000 Drawings-New Jersey Center for Visual Arts
Books Referencing This Artist:
Submitted December 2003 by Julie McWilliams
"Cut By The Edge: George Mueller"
As an abstract expressionist painter still in his early twenties, Mueller won the attention of New York art critics in the mid-late 50's. He certainly looked the part: tall, lank, intense, beautiful, irreverent, smart. He drank, smoked and could stare into cameras. He could also paint. Fresh from Cooper Union, Mueller was signed by Borgenicht Gallery and had seemingly found his niche in the New York marketplace. The new edge was already sharpening a "popsima" on soup cans, cartoons, and perfume bottles as the crustier New York School painters began to show a profit.
Mueller was featured in shows, written about by the critics, and enjoyed the kind of management reserved for very special initiates. He was being groomed for a position. He was not exactly outside the latest cannon Pop Art, since he had not painted soup cans, but his work did support the major Abstract Expressionist players. He was perhaps to play the role that a Feininger or Leger played to the giants of Cubism; Picasso and Braque; supportive of the canon and of the industry but somewhat of a late comer.
By the 70's, however he had tuned into a different station. He found his own expression and the harsh repercussions of a complex marketplace simultaneously. His dealer, uncomfortable with Mueller's new hard-edged, geometric experimentation and not encouraged by this new look which had not yet been condoned by critics or collectors, encouraged the earlier paintings reminiscent of his friend Motherwell; painterly, abstract, loose.
Mueller's paintings of the 70's and 80's looked as if he had suddenly focused a lens. His compositions became clean. He tightened every form into precise, honed, solipsistic dialogs. The emphasis between space and the comprehension of color become more than words flung carelessly about by writers. Space and hue, in the hands of Mueller become real components rather than hollow art-speak. They are not rum considerations. They are also not mere designs. They are open, poignant, personal revelations living as solid beings in a completely in abstract territory.
Though his work was never interrupted, his turn into left-field from the direction that his market had pointed him, proved to be disastrous for his New York career. Self absorbed and seemingly unconcerned with the industry beneath his early success, he ignored repeated attempts by the galleries to get him back into dis-order, and he stubbornly continued to travel his own road. Finding Borgenicht Gallery unwilling to support or promote his most recent work, Mueller switched to Waddell Gallery. However, personality conflicts and continued lack of support for his artistic freedom eventually led to insurmountable disagreements there as well. By the time Mueller had been seen in the magazines, collected by the major museums, won a Guggenheim Fellowship and acclaim at the Venice Biennial, he had come to a mutual standoff with New York's edge.
In the late 70's his canvases became large (9ftx18ft) and the subject matter, architectural fragments, uninhabited porches of old style houses set against the repeating facades of apartment complexes and Newark streets. They were painted with painstaking hard edge precision that resembled photo realism only in it's careful detail. The compositions themselves sank spaces where spaces were unlikely to be or created false relationships that promised one thing but delivered something else. Hardened extremes in shadows and light suggest Hopper without Hopper's characteristic figures. Here is a surreal, lonely, sinister aspect to simple American architectural structures.
Many of his later abstract paintings of Cape Cod were produced by juxtaposing thousands of thin (1/8th-1/16th) strips of pure vacillating color placed in meticulous horizontal bands on the canvas, always using nature as a point of departure but always transcending natural forms into a kind of handmade technology. Here, Mueller remakes nature into stainless steel or chromium metal. If Seurat created light using his subtractive and additive dots, Mueller develops sound, constructing solid breathable forms out of thin bands of relative hues and color intervals. The results are more onerous than Seurat's, a beauty that is both quiet and full of responsibility. Each little band of color is very conscious of the color next to it. All of them work together to define larger forms which swell with fine gravity. Each large space is broken with line after line until the surfaces become simultaneously weightless and burdensome, transparent and dense, uniform while maintaining a startling diversity.
Later paintings often rely on large areas and blocks of color resting in disquieting or unusual relationships. While still fragments of architecture, these spaces recall interiors in unsettled carnival houses. Mueller rarely reaches for a dark color to create a minor key. Like musical scales, his color scales can be tuned up or down in subtle pitches to formulate a light and beautiful passage or a disquieting, queasy interval. There is never melodrama but there is always a submerged conflict or two.
Weary of the battles with the New York art scene, Mueller and wife, Juliana moved to Long Valley, New Jersey, a quiet rural farming community about 70 miles from the urban setting where he grew up. Virtually his first contact with nature initiated his painstaking renditions of natural areas surrounding his studio (an old one room school house).. He traversed fields and woods at night, walked and rambled around country roads and meadows to draw his observations and build a vocabulary by examining detail. And they are careful observations of nature lacking any pretense toward an obligatory modern abstraction or intellectual technique. They simply and elegantly record.
These drawings too, reveal the same skillful understanding of light/dark, edge/space, and fixed or vague object. These landscapes, like his paintings never depict human or animal life. They are remote places. Quiet, poignant, and often melancholy. Objects appear empty at times or space becomes solidified. This is a process similar to that of the Ancient Chinese Literati. Mueller stipples graphite, tapping lightly against the surface of unforgiving cold-pressed watercolor paper, meticulously building up minute dots which create fine detail and an elegant surface. He does not allow himself to erase. He doesn't use photographs. This implies that anything that is put down is fully committed. Every mark must precisely relate to the next series of marks as a chain being constructed one link at a time or a numenal distillation of early Chinese landscape painters. Erasing, would of course destroy the integrity of the surface...a false-start which would force Mueller to abandon the project and begin clean. His aim is not to over stimulate or impress anyone with detail, but rather to reach a personal interior/external region distilled from encounters with nature. This method of gathering information, thinking about the information, returning to his studio and retrieving the snow drift, the meadow, a darkened highway, etc. leaves room for fantasy and imagination that would other wise become heavy exercises in photorealism.
These drawings are not literal tree-by tree translations of a familiar forest nor are they snap shots of someone's backyard, but they are inventions of the artist's memory and of his past. They are reminders of the transience of nature, our human connections, and ephemeral stability; both human and material. The people in the drawings who do not appear are suggested, but they will never appear. The houses and gardens which have changed into developments and shopping malls are vanished and what remains is an empty stage awaiting the next round of human activity. He has an ability to memorialize without sentimentality, to document without resorting to prosaic illustration. It is as difficult to walk the line of representation as it is to traverse abstraction these days without stumbling into histrionic bland, but Mueller continues to create work which strikes a profound and meaningful balance. That is a rum thing.