Interview with Resident Artist
Robert Thomas Mullen

Posted January 29, 2013 in Blog


Robert Thomas Mullen in his studio at HCCC. Photo by Kim Coffman.

Tell us a little about what you are currently working on.

I’m currently working on a series of jewelry pieces that express my reactions to living in an urban environment.  I have never lived in a town bigger than 10,000 people before Houston.  My more current work focuses on urban settings, the Atlantic Ocean and cityscapes.

How did you get your start working with metal? How has your work evolved? 

I actually fell into metalsmithing by accident.  I took an intro class and it came naturally.  I have always used found objects in my art.  At first, I had a much more traditional outlook on metalsmithing.  My work now has evolved, utilizing mainly wood or other materials.

Your work often incorporates an incredible array of found objects. How did this practice of finding and collecting things to use in your work begin? 

 As a child, I gathered objects on family trips to catalog memories with tangible objects.  This continued into my adulthood.  I am inspired by interaction with both individuals and the context of these environments. I acquire many of the objects and materials that I use through public interaction.

Robert Thomas Mullen, “How I See/Saw Houston” (front). Texas ebony, brass, cubic zirconia. 2012. Photo by Robert Thomas Mullen.

Robert Thomas Mullen, “How I See/Saw Houston” (back). Texas ebony, brass, cubic zirconia. 2012. Photo by Robert Thomas Mullen.

Robert Thomas Mullen, “Bark Necklace.” Bark, Mammoth Tusk, Brass. 2012. Photo by Robert Thomas Mullen.

I’ve noticed that you often incorporate human or animal teeth in your work. Can you tell us about significance of these materials? 

 I am drawn to using teeth, in particular, because two of my great uncles owned the largest false-tooth manufacturing company in the Midwest.  I also think often of the mortality of those around me.  Memento Mori and mourning jewelry highly influence my work.  They are one of the reasons that I am drawn to classic shapes, such as the oval and rectangle.

Robert Thomas Mullen, “Roots” (front). Ebonized walnut, roots, brass, human tooth, paint. 2012. Photo by Robert Thomas Mullen.

Robert Thomas Mullen, “Roots” (back). Ebonized walnut, roots, brass, human tooth, paint. 2012. Photo by Robert Thomas Mullen.

How has being a photographer influenced or aided your craft practice? Are you currently working on any photo-based projects? 

I definitely think about how the piece will photograph when making it.  This is somewhat of a hindrance.  I take all of my own slide photographs of my artwork.  This gives me the ability to shoot the piece in the way that I envisioned. I am currently not working on any photo-based projects.  In the past, I have created books encompassing large portions of my artistic career.  I believe that a book based on my time at HCCC is going to be in the works.

Describe yourself in 5 words.

Supportive, Intelligent, Colorful, Respectful, Sincere

What do you enjoy most about working with wood? 

I enjoy working with wood for two main reasons.  It gives me the volume that I want, without the weight that metal had been giving me before.  I also enjoy that wood has a history.  No two pieces that I create are ever exactly the same.

What are you working to achieve during this residency? 

I hope to use my time at HCCC to experience an urban setting, while creating artwork in my aesthetic.  It is definitely a challenge, but being in Houston has changed my perspective significantly.

Besides HCCC, what is your favorite museum/gallery/art space in Houston?

Winter Street Studios.

What are you doing when you’re not creating? 

I wake up and go to bed thinking about making my art.  It is how I have been for as long as I can remember.  Producing pieces is like breathing to me.  I don’t know how I could survive without it.  I spend a lot of time walking and picking up objects in the street for my jewelry.  Also, I research techniques constantly to try in my future pieces.