Monday, May 21, 2018

Meet Meredith & Tony Mullins

The Reynolds "Art Duo"

Professors, Reynolds Art Department

Pictured here: upper left, Meredith Mullins; upper right, Meredith's painting: Kind to Everything it Touches; lower left, Tony's paining: Prince; lower right, Tony Mullins.

An exhibit of Meredith and Tony's work will open Saturday, June 30 in the Workforce Development Building Conference Center Gallery on the Reynolds Parham Road Campus.

Question: Meredith, you grew up in Charlottesville. Tony, you grew up in Tennessee. You two met while attending Savannah College of Art and Design and moved to Glen Allen when Tony came to Reynolds. How does the Richmond area compare with your home towns?

Meredith: We have grown to love it here in Glen Allen, and it is a wonderful place to raise our family. Life in suburbia is quite different from where we both grew up. I spent my childhood as a faculty “brat” on the campus of a boy’s boarding school, tucked in the foothills of the Shenandoah National Park, west of Charlottesville. We lived with students and other faculty families in a tight-knit community. Blue Ridge School is an idyllic setting; 1,000 acres of woods, ponds, athletic facilities and historic American Gothic style stone buildings. I consider my “hometown” Blue Ridge School (St. George VA) and Dyke VA which is a tiny general store/post office one mile down the road. The isolation of being in the country was balanced by the freedom to roam the outdoors. My brothers and I could take off hiking or biking and my mother would tell us to blow a whistle if we needed help. By contrast, my children have a very active social life, with exposure to more varied cultural, academic and athletic opportunities.  

Tony: I grew up close to Knoxville, TN and Richmond reminds me somewhat of Knoxville. My hometown of Rockwood, TN is a small town that is nestled between the Cumberland Plateau and Watts Bar Lake. It’s a ruggedly beautiful area though the town itself looks a bit tired and worn. Richmond is of course far more vibrant, and a beautiful city in its own right, though I do miss the mountains and desperately miss the lakes of Tennessee.

Q: Do you know if you are the only married teaching couple at Reynolds?

M: I believe so, but I’m not positive. I call us “The Reynolds Art Duo”. We have been married 19 years and teaching together at Reynolds for nearly 14 years. Tony started teaching at Reynolds in 2004 and I came on board a year later. 

T: I’m certain there have been others, but I’m unaware of another married couple currently teaching at the college.

Q: You are heading out on a special trip this summer with your three children. Please explain what makes this trip special.

M: We are embarking on our “Epic Western Trip, Part II”. We will pack up the minivan and drive across the country to Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone NP and Grand Tetons NP. We plan to tent camp, ride horses, hike and hopefully avoid close encounters with wildlife. Two years ago, we camped up to Acadia ME and all the way up to Prince Edward Island and then Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. The previous year, we camped in Yellowstone and the Tetons for the first time and realized that we would need to return to fully experience it all. These “epic” trips are a way to give our children a taste of the outdoors that was so important to Tony and I growing up. 

T: I want my kids to see the country, understand how vast our nation is and how geographically and culturally diverse it truly is. Travel expands horizons, opens minds and fires the imagination. I am fortunate that my online teaching during the summer here at Reynolds allows me to make these journeys. 

Q: You are both involved with lots of activities in addition to your professional lives as artists and teachers. How do you find and manage the time for all the things you want to do? 

M: I am the Queen of Lists. I plan ahead for work deadlines, our three kids’ activities/sports and Tony’s band practices/gigs. A decade ago we started running to model a healthy lifestyle for our children. We usually run the RVA half-marathon and the Monument 10k, along with several other local 5ks.  We train several times a week; I run in the mornings and Tony runs in the evenings.  

My family is the priority during the day, so I often paint from 8 pm - 1 am and then the next day take a mid morning nap after the kids go to school. When I’m on a roll with a painting, I try to squeeze in an hour or two in the afternoons. 

T: I rely pretty heavily on my phone calendar. I run, paint, draw, game and make music in creative spurts, focusing on one or the other as my mood or need dictates. I am a late night creative person so I’m often painting into the wee hours of my home studio (currently in flux due to our recent move) or at the college studio during office hours, between semesters, etc. 

Q: What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching art at Reynolds?

M: The most rewarding gift is the surge of creative energy that I feel after teaching studio class classes. When students grow artistically, their excitement and pride is like a shared electric current.  

T: Helping art students avoid all the mistakes that I made and getting them ready for their next steps. I’m a former community college kid myself so I’ve walked the same path that they’re on now.

Q: How have your artistic styles changes over time?

M: I still obsessively paint the figure and my style has changed very little in 25 years. Since my process is fairly laborious, I always seek more efficient ways to develop compositions and prepare surfaces so I can get painting quicker. 

T: Color and expression have always characterized what I do on canvas and paper. I bounce around from one subject to the next far more than I should, but I have an active imagination and enjoying tackling new challenges. In grad school and for many years thereafter, I was an exhibiting abstract painter who enjoyed many other subjects and techniques, but never really seriously pursued them. Today, I focus primarily on pop images of people who I find inspiring or present interesting painting opportunities. 

Q: If you could select a dream project what would it be?

M: My dream project would be to attend an artist’s retreat somewhere remote and beautiful where I could be engrossed in the environment and paint without distraction for several weeks. 

T: Somewhere in this country, there is a museum that needs colorful pop portraits of the great musicians enshrined therein. I’d like to be the artist that provides those.

Q: Do you ever work collaboratively as artists? As teachers?

M: We collaborated once to make a large mural and several life-sized figure paintings for a history museum in TN. We always work together to prepare for exhibitions - building/installing frames, painting the sides of paintings, and wiring/photographing/hanging artwork. We often counsel each other during our separate painting sessions. He points out areas that I need to refine and I tell him when his paintings are finished! 

We do not jointly teach together but since the curriculum overlaps in our classes, we often share teaching materials and project ideas.

T: Meredith and I actually work very closely in the development of content for the classes we teach. We’ve spent years working on the content for our Drawing course and Art Appreciation course.

Q: What advice do you give students pursuing a career as an artist?

M: A fine arts or commercial arts program helps students to produce a cohesive portfolio and learn professional practices. College is the perfect time for students to explore artistic styles, try out different media and discover what fuels their passion. Students can develop focus and confidence to choose their career path. In the meantime, I tell them to produce a lot of art, participate in exhibits and start an artist website. 

T: I tell them to work hard and be prepared to compete. Talent is not enough, as most people who make a living in the creative fields are ridiculously talented individuals. I also encourage them to develop their sense of persistence. You’ll be told “no” quite often, but persistence and work ethic are the keys to success, and this is probably true in most areas of life.

One other thing that needs to be said, art and a career in art goes far beyond simply making paintings and drawings. Two of the most lucrative industries in the world are stuffed to the brim with artists and other creatives; film and gaming. Far too many parents and counselors have a myopic view that an art degree leads one to the life of the stereotypical starving artist. Whether it’s the latest big budget Disney film of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or the latest release by a huge gaming company like Blizzard or Bethesda, those endeavors require a massive amount of creative work produced by, yes, you guessed it; artists.

Q: If you won the mega millions lottery, what would you do first with the money?

M: After essential finances were settled, I’d travel abroad each summer, letting each family member pick a destination. I would love to visit Scotland and New Zealand. 

T: Pay off the rest of the mortgage; stock some money away for the kids to go to ridiculously expensive colleges. I’d then buy a nice fishing boat, get a lifetime fishing license in Tennessee and off to the lake I’d go. I wouldn’t change my teaching schedule at all really since I love what I do. There’s a pretty good chance I’d splurge on a vintage guitar; a 50s era Gibson J-45 or J-50, and maybe 40s era Martin D-28 or D-18. I suppose I’d have to take Mere to Scotland, though we’d manage some time in Ireland while we were at it.