If you were involved with art in Wichita in any way from 1995 onward, chances were that you knew Kevin Mullins.
Mullins, who was once described in an art show as one of the “titans of the ‘90s,” became widely known in Wichita for his work with Wichita State University’s Ulrich Museum of Art — as well as his abstract studio art.
With his wife Ann Resnick, Mullins co-founded Project Gallery in their Douglas Design District loft well before there was a “Douglas Design District” — and that gallery was one of few in Wichita that primarily showcased contemporary art from around the country.
Mullins died suddenly in March of 2018.
Now the museum where he dedicated so much of his time is displaying 30 years of his work in a museum-wide retrospective show, “Fire in the Paint Locker.”
This weekend the museum will release a glossy coffee-table book featuring more than 100 high-quality photographs of Mullins’ work, as well as scholarly essays about why it’s significant. The catalogue costs $60.
The museum is hosting a special catalogue-release party from 5-7 p.m. Sat., at which the co-curators of the exhibition — Resnick and Dan Rouser — will be signing copies.
It’s not often that the Ulrich dedicates its entire museum to one single show — or highlights Wichita-based artists.
“We’re not here primarily to focus on or promote the local art scene, but I feel like it’s also really important for us to recognize really important work when it happens to be happening here,” said Ksenya Gurshtein, curator of modern and contemporary art at the Ulrich. “This was very much that case where Kevin’s work is important beyond Wichita. We’re lucky just to be here and have access to it.”
Many of his works have been jokingly called “praintings” — a combination of painting and printmaking.
As an artist, Mullins was intensely focused on the process of artmaking and perhaps not as much on some philosophical meaning behind the artwork, friends said. Some of his recurring motifs include dot patterns, wavy lines and repetition.
His works have been collected across Wichita and the country — and many of the works in the retrospective have been borrowed from private collections.
“Now that the retrospective has gone up, the one phrase everybody is using is that it’s about transcendence,” said Rebecca Hoyer, local artist and longtime friend of Mullins and Resnick. “I think he was more interested in process and how materials combined. ... I think it was more about the beauty of the pieces than it is about perhaps transcendence.”
Mullins and Resnick opened their gallery at a time when the fledgling local art scene was really starting to take off — co-op galleries like Fisch Haus, Tractor Factory, Famous Dead Artists and Acme Gallery all sprang up in the ‘90s and pioneered the concept of “Final Fridays.”
“He knew a lot of people, and having a gallery, people were in and out of our space quite a lot,” Resnick said. “Project (Gallery) was a different animal altogether, and I don’t know what people think about it anymore — who’s around that remembers it, exactly — but I see the influence still in the community of artists.”
“Fire in the Paint Locker” is on display at the Ulrich Museum of Art, 1845 Fairmount, through Aug. 11.
The museum is open from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, and 1-5 p.m. on weekends.
Admission to the museum is free.