Lee Mullican UCLA Computer Joy

Lee Mullican: Computer Joy and Digital Art

American painter and digital art pioneer Lee Mullican (1919 – 1998) was born in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He joined the army after earning his degree from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1942 and worked as a topographical draughtsman for four years before relocating to San Francisco in 1946.

After being awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship in 1959, he spent a year painting in Rome before returning to Los Angeles and joining the UCLA Art Department in 1961, where he remained for almost 30 years. His homes in Los Angeles and Taos were where he spent the latter years of his life, traveling the world and collaborating on UCLA exhibitions.

Through his innovative digital works, American painter Lee Mullican in the middle of the 1980s furthered the fusion of art and technology. In the artist’s opinion, there are similarities between working physically and digitally. Mullican created his own contemplative painting technique he named “striation,” which involves rhythmically and repeatedly pressing a palette knife into the canvas. Mullican established a collaboration with Gordon Onslow Ford and Wolfgang Paalen soon after refining his aesthetic.
After the Greek word for “the feasible,” they chose the moniker “DYN” for their group.

Lee Mullican UCLA 1987 Digital Art Computer Joy

(Lee Mullican, 1987, UCLA, photo by Basil Langton, courtesy of Marc Selwyn Fine Art)

When Mullican started working with digital imaging technology, color integration had just been made possible thanks to IBM, which in 1981 released the Color Graphics Adapter (CGA) and a 16-color scheme (four bits—one bit each for red, green, blue, and intensity) for its first IBM PC. This was later improved with the Enhanced Graphics Adapter (EGA) in 1984.

Mullican experimented with painting and drawing on a computer by utilizing an IBM 5170 that was fitted with a Truevision Advanced Raster Graphics Adapter (TARGA) and a Summagraphics Summasketch pen. Mullican produced around 300 photos that were stored on floppy disks as.TGA and.PCX files. Computers still accept the artwork’s native file format since the TARGA-generated files were the first to support Highcolor/TrueColor display on VISTA boards, the first graphics cards for IBM-compatible PCs.

Mullican is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

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