Lee Mullican, Wolfgang Paalen, and Gordon Onslow-Ford arrived in the San Francisco Bay Area at around the same time in the late 1940s, and soon discovered they shared common aims. Mullican had arrived in 1947 following service as a topographical draftsman with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II. In 1949 the three artists lived for a few months in Paalen’s Mill Valley house. In 1950 they exhibited together at Stanford University, with lectures by Sybil Moholy-Nagy, Onslow-Ford, and Paalen.
Soon thereafter, they came together in a group they called the Dynaton, exhibiting in the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1951. The group was of enormous importance to the history of art, as probably the first internationally recognized post-surrealist group. They used surrealist automatic methods to tap into higher consciousness or an “inner space,” but arrived at an artistic expression that was at once a meditative response and a doorway to infinite possibilities. They believed that artistic exploration, like scientific inquiry, could open new territory and usher in a new era. Drawing on Native American and pre-Columbian art, and physics, they also espoused the vital quiet in California nature as one of their points of departure.
The Dynaton helped set the tone for art in Northern California in the 1950s, contributing to both Beat and funk art. Even so, soon after the 1951 exhibition, the Dynaton group disbanded and Mullican moved to Santa Monica, where he lived until his death. Though he found inspiration in his early breakthroughs with the group in San Francisco, and he continued to follow an approach to abstraction that acknowledged spiritual forces, his far-ranging contribution to art was only just beginning at the time of the Dynaton. Mullican taught in the UCLA art department from 1962 to 1990 and, through his art and teaching, ever widened his lasting international legacy.
Works in Our Collection
Oil on canvas, 1967
35 x 75 inches
Family Interior with Flower Arrangement
Oil on canvas, 1959
50 x 70 inches
Gift of Ruth and Murray Gribin
Quartette of Spider Sounds
Charcoal and ink on wove paper, 1950
sheet 25-1/8 x 18 7/8 inches; image 22-3/4 x 18-1/2 inches
Museum purchase with funds provided through prior gift of Lois Outerbridge