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Sue Bush
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"100 Hours" Artist: Mark W. Mulherrin

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, January 05, 2007

Mark Mulherrin at his Beaver Street Mills studio.
North Adams - Artist Mark W. Mulherrin may face an ultimate artist challenge during a five-day MCLA [Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts] Gallery 51 "100 Hours" art event.

He could begin the hours with no plan at all.

Off A Self-Imposed "Collage Diet"

"I don't want to think about what I'll do," Mulherrin said during an Jan. 5 interview at his Beaver Street Mills studio. "I just want to walk in there."

But don't confuse spontaneity with a lack of readiness; Mulherrin said that he has been honing some back-burner collage skills in preparation for the show.

"This week I started making collages," he said. "I had put myself on kind of a collage-free diet. I'd been relying on collage [for art purposes] and I stopped with that. With this show coming, I said 'I'm really out of practice, I need to practice collages.'"

An 18-artist contingent has agreed to create art in the gallery space beginning Jan. 25 and ending Jan. 30, with selected works then exhibited in a "100 Hours In The Woodshed" exhibit that will open with a reception during the evening of Jan. 30.

The event was organized by artist Danny O and MCLA's Special Projects Director Jonathan Secor.

Shake It Up

There may be a sense of creative competition among the artists, Mulherrin said, and he likened the event to a dance contest.

"I'm not an uncompetitive person and [competition] is bound to happen," he said. "It's like a dance contest. If people are all together shaking their thing,then everyone will be shaking their thing a little harder. This could make people reach a little farther, which would ultimately be a good thing."

Pythagoras

Mulherrin is a painter who has gained notoriety for a very different and unique guitar-art exhibit titled "The Pythagoras Project."

The project was exhibited at the downtown gallery and the Contemporary Artists Center in 2006. The "project" was a melding of inspiration generated by a legend about Pythagoras, a Greek philosopher and mathematician, and Mulherrin's own captivation with guitars.

He's played guitar since age 9 but never wanted to be a fame-and-fortune-seeking musician, he said.

"I preferred the solitude of art," he said. "My make-up was such that I was happier being in a studio and solely responsible for outcome."

His guitar playing did lead to Mulherrin's being "in the band" during his high school and college years but "that was for fun," he said.

From New England To Brooklyn, From Brooklyn To Florida...

After a typical New England youth spent within the oceanside town of Northhampton, N.H., Mulherrin traveled to Brooklyn, N.Y. as an art student at the Pratt Institute. The shift from bucolic picture-postcard New Hampshire to Brooklyn was "pretty traumatic," he said.

He graduated from the institute in 1982 with a bachelor's degree in fine art and spent about 10 years in New York City. Mulherrin then spent about two years in Florida and after Hurricane Hugo slashed its' way across the southeastern region, he traveled to the hurricane ravaged island of St.Croix and worked on rebuilding projects.

St. Croix:"I Kept Finding Reasons To Stay"

The St. Croix junket was meant to be a temporary stop but Mulherrin stayed on the island for 10 years. On St. Croix, Mulherrin's artistic inclinations flourished, he said.

"I kept finding reasons to stay," he said. "That is really where I became a working artist. When I moved to St. Croix, I was able to hunker down and get a studio and do my work."

The isolation of the island helped his work, Mulherrin said.

"You couldn't go out to an art museum, you couldn't even get art magazines there," he said. "People were paying attention to you as an artist, and you could do shows pretty easily. The people knew who you were if you were showing and they knew what you did at last year's show. They remembered and they wondered what would you do at this year's show."

Mulherrin was able to earn a living as a house-painter who worked in that capacity a couple days a week. His art focus occupied the remaining time, he said.

Berkshires-bound

After seven or eight years of living on St, Croix, Mulherrin met the woman who was to become his wife. After they married, they decided to leave St. Croix.

"I didn't want to wake up someday and be the 55-year-old guy with buckets of paint in the back of his car," said the 47-year-old artist.

The couple knew people from the Berkshires through the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, and Mulherrin said he'd visited the area and liked it.

"The gestation of MoCA [Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art] was going on and the museum was about to open," Mulherrin said, and added that the time and the place seemed right for a move.

Inspiration At A Pownal Yard Sale

He came to the Northern Berkshires a painter and it was a popular weekend rural pursuit that triggered his guitar creations, he said.

"I bought an electric guitar at a yard sale in Pownal, Vt., " Mulherrin said. "It came with this cheesy amp and I started messing around with it. To me, a guitar was an instrument you play, not really an art object, but something about this guitar was so ratty and cheap. I took it apart and became interested in it as an object."

Mulherrin's interest in the finer points of building guitars was piqued as was his artistic sense and he began creating "guitars" from unusual items. He then opted to take the process one step further and create guitars that could be played, he said.

"It was a different type of activity and it got my mind working in a different way. And then it all kind of looped back on itself and I began to think of it as art."

Mulherrin is enjoying an artistically active winter; after the "100 Hours" show, an exhibit of his paintings will open on Feb. 3 at the Plum Gallery on Water Street in Williamstown.

Mulherrin is an instructor of visual art at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge. His wife is a public school teacher in Pittsfield.
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