While he may have acquired the nickname “The Scoundrel,” Brian M. McMullen is anything but. The “sculptor and scoundrel” exudes sincerity as he discusses his bronze sculpture exhibition now showing at the Kandinsky Gallery in the eastern San José suburb of San Pedro.
With a mischievous grin, McMullen will gladly explain that he earned the moniker “Scoundrel” from a certain French model who publicly declared him so for selling his work.
“It was at a big event in Chicago, quite crucial to my career at the time, and she was of the belief that art should not be sold, was offended that I was selling work she had modeled for, so in her broken English announced that I was a scoundrel,” the sculptor told The Tico Times. “For days afterwards people were telephoning and asking to speak to ‘The Scoundrel,’ so I decided to embrace the tag rather than battle it.”
However, no title could be further from the truth.
McMullen’s calm energy immediately captivates anyone who takes a worthy moment to listen to his opinions of his work. He modestly describes his various stone and bronze images, which are displayed across the United States, in Ireland, in churches and cathedrals throughout Europe and in the Vatican itself.
“I do a lot of liturgical work, so I have quite a few commissions for a lot of that imagery; commissions are always a challenge, and I love that,” he says.
McMullen takes on the difficult task in his sculptures of displaying human relationships, attempting to “celebrate what it means to be truly human by adhering to classically realistic principles of form, figure and style.”
He uses stone and bronze mediums, his sculptures widely ranging in size and design. His exquisite attention to detail and impression make his work a treat to the eye.
“In our noisy and abstract society, we use so many indirect ways of getting to where we quintessentially want to be, often losing sight of the true beauty in the world that surrounds us,” he says. “In the West, we tend to simplify complex issues, political or other, to put them into nice, neat little frames.”
Frames are exactly what McMullen has used in many of his pieces. In one particularly moving piece, “La Femme,” which happens to retail at $2,500, he portrays a threedimensional female bust boxed neatly into a two-dimensional frame.
“This one is almost like an homage to the women in my life who have refused to allow themselves to be boxed in and labeled,” he says. “I like to combine dimensions, involving frames of a three-dimensional figure to represent a three-dimensional issue.”
However, McMullen’s work is anything but simple. His sculptures take time and contemplation to appreciate, and to reflect his purpose. He will gladly warn you that “art is not a billboard you can drive past and understand in an instant; you should have to peel back the layers of art.”
No stranger to life-altering relationships himself, McMullen recently married and moved to Costa Rica in 2004.He had already been planning on moving out of the United States, eager to escape the pace of life there, when he met his wife, Ann Lundquist.
“I was deciding where to go, looking at places like Ireland, when I met Ann,” he explains.“She had previously spent two years here in Costa Rica volunteering as a teacher and still kept in close contact with her host family. She suggested here.”
After vacationing in Costa Rica, McMullen decided it was a great opportunity, and they moved here a week after they were married. Lundquist now works for the nonprofit Children’s Hospital Costa Rica Foundation.
McMullen describes Costa Rica’s art scene as noticeably different to that of the United States. With a hesitant laugh he observes, “Costa Rica has a more European mentality in that artists are a little more – what’s the word? – normal. More approachable.”
McMullen claims the pace of the art world in the United States is “just not sustainable.” For him, living in the same place he was producing and selling his work was “unhealthy.”
One of the benefits of Costa Rica for McMullen seems to be the anonymity.
“It’s nice not to be known, just be an observer,” he says. “In the States you can get so boxed in by a name, a brand.”
While he did not originally intend on selling his work here in Costa Rica, McMullen has been drawn back into the gallery world by the Kandinsky Gallery and its director, Alma Fernández.
“Alma is so honest and not at all intimidating,” he says. “I hate that people sometimes feel intimidated and that they don’t know enough to go into a gallery.”
Fernández will be the first to tell you how pleased she is to have McMullen’s work in her gallery.
“His work is very mature, so original,” she says. “He respects what he wishes to transmit with his work. Behind it there is such symbolism; it is never just a simple figure.”
Asked whether the political messages that can be read into his work are intentional, McMullen gives a knowing smile and agrees that if you were to “scratch away at the surface … there is a political statement in all my work.”
His piece “El Patrón” is a perfect example. The sculpture features a man in what appears to be a strong, warrior’s pose, stripped of all clothing but a flag.McMullen explains that the man represents the boss, the CEO, the leader who has nothing but his wits to rely on in battle.
“Personally I feel that there is a need for strong leadership today,” he comments.
McMullen unassumingly confesses to a large following and growing fan base for his work.
“This particular series (The Petal Collection) has been very popular,” he says. “I will continue to produce it.”
His collectors range from galleries to private investors, and he shrugs his shoulders when asked how he is usually contacted: “It never ceases to amaze me how people find me.”
Through his sculptures McMullen humbly invites his viewers to share his appreciation of human emotion.
“Although my work is static, movement and emotion emanate from it,” he explains. “My art reflects a return to the clarity, essence and beauty of the human experience. I hope that all who view my work can take with them a small glimmer of this ideology.”
McMullen’s work will be showing at the Kandinsky Gallery (234-0478) through May, and can be viewed online at www.mcmullensculpture.com.