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Art & Art History
University of Mississippi

Q&A with Neely Mullen (BFA Graphic Design)

Introduce yourself:
Hi! My name is Neely Mullen, and I’m a senior pursuing my BFA in Graphic Design and BAJ in Print Journalism!

Where are you from originally?
I’m from Oxford (here!)

What attracted you to the Department of Art & Art History?
I’ve known that I wanted to major in art or pursue a creative career for a long time. When I visited the department, I knew that it would be a good fit for me. Everyone seemed so passionate and excited about their work, and there was a great sense of community!

What type of artwork do you create?
Although my emphasis is in graphic design, the BFA program has really helped me to think about how my work can be expanded into other formats. The program is very interdisciplinary, and a lot of my current work is focused on exploring the intersections between painting. drawing, and design. This is reflected in my thesis, which combines digital design and projection with painting. That being said, I try to make sure that my work is rooted in graphic design; I love playing around with typography and layout design!

Could you explain your process?
My process starts with brainstorming and collecting references and inspiration; after that initial stage, I like to make a few small thumbnails before diving into the computer and using that space as a kind of digital sketchbook as the project develops. My thesis process was completely different from this usual flow since it was so open-ended; after surveying all of my work, I had to figure out which conceptual and visual threads seemed to connect everything. While this gave me a lot of freedom, it also presented a new set of problems and challenges. Throughout this process, I also drew a lot of inspiration from poetry and literature, which is something that I haven’t really played with before.

Which artists do you look to for inspiration?
My biggest design inspiration has to be David Carson; his work pushed the limits of what graphic design means, and is based as much in physical manipulation as it is in digital manipulation. His approach and process has really influenced the way that I work and think as a designer. I’m also inspired and visually influenced by artists like Willem de Kooning, Cecily Brown, Sally Mann, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Conceptually, I really appreciate the work of artists like Doreen Garner, Tracy Emin, and Cella Man, who wrestle with complex concepts of trauma and vulnerability in really honest and specific ways. Along those lines, for my thesis, I was heavily inspired by writers including Raven Lelani and Sylvia Plath.

Which professors inspired you the most?
I am lucky to have had some amazing professors within the department! I can honestly say that every class that I have taken has shaped who I am as an artist, and I’m so grateful for all of the relationships that I have formed with my professors! Specifically, I have to say that Tyler Barnes, Brooke Alexander, Phillip Jackson, Kariann Fuqua, and Brooke White have really shaped my understanding of what it means to be an artist, as well as what it means to be a member of an artistic community. I would know very little about graphic design if not for Mr. Barnes. Throughout my time in the graphic design program, Mr. Barnes taught me not only how to be a technically sound designer, but also a designer who trusts their instincts and understands what it means to be a respectful and upstanding member of the greater design community. I’m so grateful for everything that I have learned in the graphic design program! Additionally, Brooke Alexander and Phillip Jackson all helped me to fall in love with painting, and have really helped me to develop my voice as a painter. Finally, Brooke White and Kariann Fuqua helped me to develop my communication and conceptual development. Although I only took one class from each of these professors, my limited time working with each of them has really shaped how I think and talk about my work.

What has been your favorite class during your years here?
My favorite class has to have been Plein Air. It was like summer camp! For two weeks, we painted outside all day around Oxford as a group. I really enjoyed getting to form closer bonds with my classmates, and getting to learn techniques that were completely outside of my wheelhouse. If you get the chance to take it, take it—you won’t regret it!

Could you describe a favorite memory here in the department?
One of my favorite memories in the department is probably the show opening at Southside Gallery for our Plein Air class. It was really rewarding to celebrate all of our hard work at the end of our experience. Although it was just for a class, it really did make me feel like a legitimate artist, which was super exciting?

What does the Department of Art & Art History mean to you?
This department has really shaped who I am as an artist, and therefore who I am as a person. I don’t know who I would be without the support and guidance of my professors and peers over the last few years!

Do you have any advice for incoming art students?
My best advice is to really embrace each area as you go through the program! I think it’s easy to get intimidated by unfamiliar processes or media; I know that I was terrified when I started taking sculpture classes because I had no experience whatsoever. However, I really grew to enjoy those classes and learned how to do some really cool things that I would have never been exposed to otherwise. Have patience with yourself throughout your experience and let yourself play and have fun!

What type of music do you listen to while you create art?
I listen to all kinds of music! I love to listen to podcasts while I work, too—my favorites are Throughline and 99% Invisible (which is a great pick if you’re interested in design)!

What are you binge-watching while being a couch potato?
While I was working on my thesis over spring break, I really got into reality competition shows, which is really out of character for me. Specifically, I’ve been watching Project Runway and RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Do you have any hobbies outside of the art department?
While making art is my primary hobby, I also love to read and write when I have time!

What is your favorite thing about Oxford or the University?
Although it’s cliche, I think that my favorite thing about Oxford is the community of people that I have met. There are so many passionate, generous, and kind people here that I’ve been lucky to know!

What is your favorite restaurant in Oxford?
My favorite restaurant in Oxford is probably Rice and Spice. If it’s a special occasion, I also love Saint Leo and Jinsei!

Can we find you on social media?
Yes! My art can be found @neelymullenart on Instagram.

Do you have any plans after graduation?
I hope to move somewhere new and get a job as a graphic designer! (If anyone is hiring, feel free to reach out, haha!)

“crying in public” will be on display in Gallery 130 from April 4–8, 2022.
Q&A Interview conducted by Frank Estrada. Photos provided by the artist.