Lives in Pittsburgh, PA
Sidney Mullis constructs uncanny and materially rich sculptures that ruminate on childhood. Her art memorializes the facets of identity and behavior that are left behind as we grow up. Mullis reimagines adolescent toys, food, and substances with highly original techniques. For example, the artist whisks together colorful construction paper and gravestone dust (collected from a professional carver) to concoct a playdough-like pulp with which she builds shapes. Mullis also applies a playground sand mixture to found items, inserting candles into the resulting art objects. The experimental nature of her process means that some of these works will gradually change and fade—aligned with the artist’s fixation on the passage of time.
Evocative and eerie, the artist’s forms would equally arise in a kid’s daydreams and an adult’s nightmares. Her practice resonates with that of American sculptors like Robert Gober who in the 1970s began reconstructing and defamiliarizing domestic objects to probe the human psyche. Like Gober, Mullis also presents her discrete sculptures in immersive installations. In those invented landscapes, childlike attitudes and reveries are resurrected. The ways in which Mullis transforms objects parallel mortal transitions: from infancy to maturity; from innocence to intimacy; from birth to death. The artist intermingles the moods—humor and gravity; playfulness and profundity; whimsy and solemnity—that are associated with separate life stages. Mullis wrestles with the coming-of-age traditions that condition us to “tamp down our quirks and stifle our sillies,” in her words.
Sidney MullisHot Dog Tree, 2019
Sidney MullisYard Birdie, 2019
Sidney MullisPizza Tree, 2019
Sidney MullisPlaythings #3, 2023
Sidney MullisFootsie Ring on Pointed Pillow, 2020
Sidney MullisPlaythings #4, 2023
Sidney MullisSand Cones, 2019
Sidney MullisSand Castle with Windows, 2019
Sidney MullisSand Patties, 2020
Sidney MullisPurple Plant with Potential, 2023
Sidney Mullis received an MFA in Sculpture from Penn State University after garnering a BA in Studio Art from the University of Mary Washington. The artist has presented solo shows at organizations such as Bunker Projects, Pittsburgh, PA (2020); Rowan University Art Gallery, Glassboro, NJ (2018); and the Leslie Lohman Museum of Art, New York, NY (2016). Mullis has participated in prestigious artist residencies at the Wassaic Project, NY (2019); MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA (2017); and the Ox-Bow School of Art, Saugatuck, MI (2016), among others. Her work has been acquired by collections including Powerhouse Arts, Brooklyn, NY; University of Mary Washington, Fredericksburg, VA; and the Women's Studio Workshop, Rosendale, NY.
I was recently told I should feel grown up now.
Since hearing this declaration about my age, I’ve become curious about how distance is fabricated between child and adult in the United States. Coming-of-age forces an upward progression that is socially sanctioned, encouraged by cultural events like prom, and solidified by heteronormative capitalism. With this emphasis on moving up and up and up, I have become preoccupied with the childhood selves that came before. Where did they go? How do we mourn them? Now, as an adult (a role I never auditioned for), why do we speak about my inner child as if she is sometimes there? Can I keep her?
I am building a make-believe forest to find where our childhood selves retreat during adulthood and if it is possible to bring them back to the present. The forest—often a transformational space in children’s stories—is built of many parts that come together in sculptural installations. This make-believe forest has had three different iterations: Of Ash & Ice, Sand Murmurs, and Purple Forest. The objects within appear mutable, as if staged for performance, play, or ritual.
I playfully transform my materials into unusual forms and surfaces. I mix kid’s construction paper with gravestone dust to make paper pulp for purple bushes and growing altars. I stir sand into a secret mixture that I apply to forms by hand, tediously and intimately. Teddy bears—the first object I knew I loved as a child—are preserved upside down on their heads using layers of candle wax. Candle wicks sprout from their hands and feet. Remaining unlit, the teddies—and the childhoods they symbolize—are static and enduring.