Featured Artist: Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Tufuga Valiata, Notes on Painting

Dan Taulapapa McMullin, 'O Taulaitu, Acrylic transfer collage and oil paint on canvas, 48 inches x 48 inches, 2012


My art practice has taken several turns since I began making visual art about eight years ago, and recently it has taken another couple of turns.  My early work was done while living in Apia Samoa and involved an ironic take on romantic island painting, first painting from live models, then more often from photographs of friends and family photos.  This island irony style culminated in a painting 'O Lo'omatua that was not ironic at all, in fact it was for me a connection to my great grandmother Saitaua based on a photograph of her in Tutuila, Eastern Samoa, and it was painted in Kona and Waimea, Hawaii Nui, during the PIKO gathering of indigenous artists.  The gathering of indigenous Pacific artists mainly from Hawaii, the Pacific Northwest, and Aotearoa, was inspiring to all of us there.

Dan Taulapapa McMullin, 'O le Lo'omatua, Oil on canvas, 30 inches x 20 inches, 2009

After PIKO, I was influenced by many of the artists I met who were sculptors, or painters influenced by sculpture, weavers, media artists, etc.  I began investigating sculpture in terms of three dimensional abstraction and representational hybridity, and then made paintings influenced by sculpture.  I didn't have a clear idea of where my work was in relation to these other sculptors and painters, except that I was fascinated by the sculpted Pacific form.  I can see now in retrospect that my ideas about Pacific sculpture were not fully informed, but at the same time I think I made some good pieces if only by intuition.  And my work began to get more notice, altho frankly the romantic island paintings sold better, but one holds on and moves forward.  Besides, making a living as an artist is impossible.  Remembering my days in theatre, I could paraphrase a theatre saying to say, “It's impossible to make a living in art, but you can make a killing.” In the mean time I tried to become an art professor, and enrolled in an MFA program in California recently altho it's a struggle to find the money to complete it.  And I've moved from the representational, to collage, to abstraction, just lately.  Last summer, I wrote a poem “Tiki Manifesto” that expressed my feelings about the Western gaze, kitsch islander art by Americans, and colonialism in the Pacific Islands.  I began making paintings that took off from my art manifesto.  In the beginning they were still mainly expressing irony and romanticism, they were humorous, sexy, and painterly in a figurative vein.  And then I began doing collage.

Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Kitsch Love, Oil on canvas, 48 inches x 48 inches, 2011


Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Tired of Tourists, Found photograph and colored pencil, 14 inches x 20 inches, 2011

In my recent work, I took a long look at appropriation.  In collecting from the internet many tiki kitsch images in comparison with indigenous sovereignty images, I decided on collage as a new avenue in my painting.  I made a large work Paradise Maintenance Department, eight foot square, earlier this year, that included many of these re-appropriated kitsch images, including images of European and American tourists having Polynesian weddings, contrasted with images like American Samoa soldiers leaving for the Middle East.  Many times I would sit with this large work and feel a sense of loss and sadness.  I think it's a difficult painting to take in, albeit my most important painting so far, then I concluded the more complex larger work with a smaller work Paradise Maintenance Department II, that expresses some of these things in a very simple way.  And afterwards I did some images based on my own photographs, such as 'O Taulaitu, which includes images of artist friends.


 Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Paradise Maintenance Department, Acrylic transfer collage and gray acrylic paint on gray gesso on canvas, 92 inches x 96 inches, 2012



 Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Paradise Maintenance Department II, Acrylic transfer collage from found photographs and oil paint in panel, 12 inches x 18 inches, 2012

Richard Kereopa, my friend in 'O Taulaitu the painting at the top of this blog, is a Maori weaver, and a media, performance, and conceptual artist.  The works of artists like Kereopa and many other indigenous artists, give me a balance to the globalized contemporary art that I seek to engage with.  I was privileged as a child to be with my maternal great grandmother Fa'asapa and help her in her siapo barkcloth paintings, and the Leoso clan on my father's side has a wonderful tradition of siapo barkcloth painting too.  It's a photograph of a Leoso siapo that is on my painting 'O Taulaitu


I was also privileged at one time in my life to accompany my fa'afafine friend and elder Fa'amanu in Ta'u village, during her communal weaving of 'ie toga fine mats.  In spite of this close engagement with traditional Samoan visual arts, looking at kitsch art has made me question all my assumptions about the Samoan artistic practice, and to search for alternative meaning in our conceptions of the traditional, realizing that my work relied on appropriated meanings and visual misinterpretations or a dumbing down of meaning.  So I began making abstract paintings influenced by Samoan siapo and weaving.  As well as the intellectual lives of the many indigenous and women and fa'afafine/whakawahine artists who inspired me.

Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Laufanua I, Oil paint on canvas, 48 inches x 48 inches, 2012


Now I am about to do a series of paintings that incorporate these directions and make some new free form paintings that are narrative, representational, and abstract, here after the midsummer point of 2012.


by Dan Taulapapa McMullin, Contemporary Painter, Poet, Sculptor, and Film Maker



The PAA blog features posts by academics, artists, museum curators, and emerging scholars highlighting the diversity of research, teaching, performance and practice in the arts of Oceania. It includes diverse views and blogs reflecting the broad range of art forms practiced in the Pacific.