Painter Thérèse Mulgrew on channelling Instincts, exploring Intimacy, and voicing the Sexuality of a Generation

Hot, sensual, and pulsating with desire, Chicago based painter Thérèse Mulgrew’s canvases demand your attention. Through focussing on portraits of friends and lovers, combined with decidedly modern Still Life works, Mulgrew captures the burgeoning sexuality of a generation of young creatives. Thick red grounds with lusciously rendered flesh and vibrant, almost neon, tones combine to draw the viewer into a hazy, nightclubesque atmosphere of sweaty bodies and grouping hands.

Thérèse Mulgrew

I paint from photographs that I style and shoot, and I am very specific about every detail of the photograph — the styling, the lighting, the poses, the props

Thérèse Mulgrew

The combination of strong attention to detail and hyper-realistic brushwork in her pantings mean they superficially appear to be photographs, yet slightly altered perspectives and dripping wet reflections betray the nature of the medium. There is something intrinsically sensual in Mugrew’s process, she spends such time and effort focussing on rendering minute details such as the engraving on a signet ring or the exact form of a woman’s tattoo. Her works are unique, engulfing and will certainly leave you wanting more. I caught up with Thérèse during her first Solo Show Skin Contact at Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles to learn more.

Q: Firstly, I find it really interesting that both your mother and grandmother are artists, yet you did not initially plan on becoming one yourself. What brought you to painting? Do you think it was something instinctual that drew you in? 

A: I actively avoided it because of all the painters in my family — along with my Mother and Grandmother, I also have an uncle who paints and a cousin who is a brilliant painter. But, to me it just seemed like a tough existence. I still believe that you only choose this path if you absolutely must — if painting feels like a part of survival.

I always knew I was a type of “artist”, but I wanted to find my own way, so I tried a plethora of creative pursuits and took each very seriously including dancing, writing, production for music and fashion photoshoots. In 2019, I decided to take a painting class at the Art Students League of New York, I’d never picked up a brush before, but I was instantly hooked. It felt like home. Even when I made my first few paintings, I instinctively understood the medium in a way I had never experienced before. So, I guess it must have been in my blood to an extent. I never even spent much time in my mother’s studio growing up.

Q: What kind of influences are prevalent in your practice? Your works are very intimate and personal, often depicting friends and people you’re very familiar with. Does the work come from knowing these individuals or are there a lot of wider aesthetic influences that inform your work? 

A: Film and photography are big influences. My relationships also play a part and I love painting people I’m close to. Equally, it can be exhilarating painting those I don’t know — I’m drawn to people’s style, the way they hold themselves or the expressiveness of their face. It can be an interesting and intimate way of getting to know a person. 

Q: There is a sense of hyper-realism which make your paintings feel much like photographs. Do you usually work from images or from life? Would you say realism and veracity is essential to your practice? 

A: I paint from photographs that I style and shoot, and I am very specific about every detail of the photograph — the styling, the lighting, the poses, the props. I think realism and veracity is important to me — it’s likely related to my interests in nonfiction literature and documentaries. Truth in art definitely turns me on. But another reason for the realism is the fact that I’m so new to painting — I’m curious to see if I can master ultra-realism before maybe eventually pulling it back and exploring more stylized approaches. 

Lover’s Hands
Q: Your work reminds me of a few young painters working at the moment who create depictions of intimate moments from lived experience and render works in a visceral way such as Tristan Pigott and Lydia Blakely – are you aware of these artists. Are there any living painters who influence you? What do you think of this turn to painting very modern subjects in a traditional and realistic figurative style? 

A: I didn’t previously know those painters but after googling them, I’m very flattered by the comparison! There are so many living contemporary painters who are hugely inspirational, and you can probably see a lot of their influence in my work — Tali Lennox, Chloe Wise, Amanda Wall, Jenna Gribbon, Jordan Casteel, to name just a few…

Q: Do you consider yourself a documentarian? Capturing a moment as it was or perhaps shining a light on youth subcultures and young queer people in the mode of someone like Larry Clark? 

A: This comparison is really the dream for me — I would *love* to consider myself a type of documentarian. I am inspired more than anything by photographers — especially street photographers like Larry Clark, David Sorrenti and Harry Conway — and by all the beautiful, interesting people I met living in New York and working in the fashion industry. I am specifically interested in my own generation and people who are unapologetically themselves, people who have stories to share, queer people and people of colour, but also people who are comfortable in front of a camera or have a unique style.

Multicolored Madonna
Q: Do you think your background in fashion and photography informs your approach to painting?

A: Absolutely. It impacted the way I approach styling and lighting the photos for my paintings — my entire process is based around the photo, that’s really where the creativity is for me. The painting part is almost more technicality and mindless.

Anna
Q: A lot of your paintings have sexual undertones, what do you feel is the role of sexuality and desire in your practice? 

A: Undertones?! I almost feel like they’re overly sexual bordering on humorous at times. But yes, desire and intimacy are vital in my work, and I’m still trying to understand why that is. I’ve always been drawn to the colour red and the curves of the female body. I’m fascinated by vulnerability, what it means and how we acquire it. I think about beauty and the practice of finding romance or sensuality in everything.

My first series of paintings was largely about challenging our culture’s fear of female sexuality but I think I’ve moved away from that a bit now. Having said that, maybe it’s just an evolution and I’m pushing this exploration even further. I’m hoping in a couple years I’ll have a clearer answer as to why sexuality is so important in my work, at the moment it feels natural and unavoidable.

Tomato with Honey
Q: Your still life works appear to me as a contemporary twist on 17th and 18th-century Dutch works – are the objects symbolic as in the historical works? Do they carry particular messages to the viewer? 

A: Yes! I’m definitely commenting on the classical still life paintings in those works. I find historical still life works very sexy and timeless. Also, my grandmother created impressionistic still life pieces — she’d paint something like a baby’s shoe next to a lemon or a can of sardines. I think this inspired me, but I made them more contemporary and twisted them into my own style.

The still life paintings are very narrative based — I really want them to play with the viewer’s imagination. For example, I think about a table after a dinner party – the melted candles, half-drunk wine bottles, ashtrays with stubbed out cigarettes. I like to consider the scenarios that preceded the set up — the tension, the relationships, the stories, the conversations that were shared and the intimate moments. 

Michael
Q: Your still life works appear to me as a contemporary twist on 17th and 18th-century Dutch works – are the objects symbolic as in the historical works? Do they carry particular messages to the viewer? 

A: Yes! I’m definitely commenting on the classical still life paintings in those works. I find historical still life works very sexy and timeless. Also, my grandmother created impressionistic still life pieces — she’d paint something like a baby’s shoe next to a lemon or a can of sardines. I think this inspired me, but I made them more contemporary and twisted them into my own style.

The still life paintings are very narrative based — I really want them to play with the viewer’s imagination. For example, I think about a table after a dinner party – the melted candles, half-drunk wine bottles, ashtrays with stubbed out cigarettes. I like to consider the scenarios that preceded the set up — the tension, the relationships, the stories, the conversations that were shared and the intimate moments. 

Thérèse Mulgrew’s currently has a solo show Skin Contact at Simchowitz Gallery in Los Angeles until the 9th of February 2022.

https://instagram.com/theresemulgrewart

©2022 Thérèse Mulgrew

My Cart Close (×)

Your cart is empty
Browse Shop