Sex & Death & Rock & Roll
In over fifty new paintings depicting the circular labels of assorted vinyl albums and singles, Muller draws upon his endless fascination and encyclopedic knowledge of music and its capacity to shape both individual and cultural identities. He culls resonant records from the ‘20s through the ‘90s, some familiar and others forgotten, tapping into shared poetic moments and a collective dialogue.
The exhibition’s title updates the 1977 song “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” by Ian Dury & the Blockheads, lyrics that came to stereotype the excesses of rock star lifestyle. Paintings are organized thematically in four titular sections: Sex, Death, Rock & Roll, and the Ampersand. Record paintings in a range of sizes are installed rhythmically over a series of hand-painted murals. The Sex gallery becomes a lush garden space with walls of painted foliage framing works that pay homage to one of the great musical genres. In the Death room positioned directly above, depictions of “Paint It Black” and “Stairway to Heaven” question the afterlife and draw focus to albums by rock stars with legendary deaths (Kurt Cobain, Elvis Presley). The Rock & Roll category presents a historical timeline of popular musical instruments, starting with the Divje Babe flute, a prehistoric flute made from holes punched through a bear’s femur bone. The final chapter of the exhibition, the Ampersand room, expands on the artist’s interest in the addendums, music compilations, B-sides, promo copies, the additional and the connected, as well as graphic design, typography, and symbolism.
Muller appropriates album art in a painterly style that is both whimsical and factual. The paintings are autobiographical and expressive; adoring as well as historically referential. He is careful to include details like hype stickers, anachronistic price tags, and extinct record shop labels, always attending to age, use, wear, and tear. Smaller paintings fit inside the central holes of larger ones, offering the contextual effect of a re-mix or playlist. In She Signed Her Letter All Yours… …Ya-Ya (2018), three individual paintings of various reissues of the same Kate Bush album offer an overview of a record’s life across several years. These paintings tell idiosyncratic stories of politics, subculture, and atmosphere that have morphed through eras and cultures.
In addition to being the shape of a record, the circle has been a fertile form that Muller continues to revisit. Early paintings and sculptures depicted disco balls, flower balls, and clover balls. Watercolors of newspaper cutouts were arranged in star-like rings. Though the paintings are not 3-D, they are sculptural––Muller suggests, “perhaps 2 ½-D.” “Spheres often appear in nature. Bubbles are held together by surface tension. Plants might group in spherical clusters to maximize the amount of light striking a given volume. You curl up into a ball to stay warm.”