Coloring Outside the Lines

A bin of orange bouncy balls caught Sidney Mullis’ eye during a routine trip to Wal-Mart.  The University of Mary Washington studio art major snapped up a plastic ball and pondered the creative possibilities.

Sidney Mullis '14 blends her interests in studio art, theater and performance art in her work.  Photo by Leigh Williams '14.

Sidney Mullis ’14 blends her interests in studio art, theater and performance art in her work.
Photo by Leigh Williams ’14.

She transformed the cheap childhood toy into wearable art that she later filmed for a performance art piece called “Straight.” The coming-of-age work earned her the Melchers Gray Purchase Award  at UMW’s annual student art exhibition in April, ensuring the work a place in UMW’s permanent art collection.

Mullis, already an accomplished artist as a 2014 graduate, often traverses the line between art and theatre in her work. She isn’t afraid to take risks, and admits she doesn’t fit neatly into conventional categories.

“I don’t really know where I sit in between the two [disciplines], and I’m actually happy about that,” she said. “I think there is something more interesting to me when I don’t know. I think that goes into my working process, too.”

With “Straight” and her other pieces, Mullis works quickly, often going from the store to the studio to start on an idea.

“I won’t measure on purpose because I want to see the things that are considered ‘wrong’ happen,” she said.  “I want to see how I can make it work. It leaves it open to me for more discovery. That’s why I don’t want to choose a spot between theater and art – it leaves it open to me to change things around.”

Mullis started her journey into the arts as a ballet dancer in elementary school. She thrived on the creativity and expression of the art form, but realized that a career in classical ballet wasn’t in her future. One art class in high school and she was hooked.

Mullis won the 2014 Melchers Gray Purchase Award for her work, "Straight." Photo provided by Mullis.

Mullis won the 2014 Melchers Gray Purchase Award for her work, “Straight.”
Photo provided by Mullis.

She came to UMW set on majoring in studio art, but soon discovered parallels between her childhood passion for her dance and the behind-the-scenes world of theater.

“I think I was drawn to it from dancing,” she said of her first set design class. “Although I wasn’t on stage, it was the same atmosphere. From there I started doing performance art.”

To Mullis, performance art breaks down the ritual of traditional theater, allowing for a more open experience.

“Sidney’s work blends interests in sculpture, video, performance, theater, and feminist theory…all seemingly complicated subjects, yet she her work possesses a wry sense of humor,” said Carole Garmon, chair of the Department of Art and Art History. “She is committed to the art of learning and she is a consummate thinker.”

On a larger scale, Mullis’ work was recently seen in the recent theater production of “Lysistrata.” She designed and built the large, colorful set for the ancient Greek comedy.

“Sidney is a truly extraordinary student of the arts,” said Julie Hodge, associate professor of theatre. “She is the delightful combination of a brilliant intellect and a curious and creative mind.  Sidney creates thought-filled artwork with agile hands and a work ethic that is second to none. I have no doubt that she is just beginning to make her impact on the art world.”

Mullis created and built the set for UMW's production of "Lysistrata." Photo by Leigh Williams '14.

Mullis created and built the set for UMW’s production of “Lysistrata.”
Photo by Leigh Williams ’14.

For Mullis, creativity knows no bounds, and she revels in the nuances of all art forms.

She has received a full-ride scholarship to attend a two-year graduate program in sculpture at Penn State, but knows theater and performance art will pepper her work.

“I just really like making things,” she said. “If there is an opportunity for me to do that I can’t say no.”

About Brynn Boyer

Brynn Boyer is assistant director of media and public relations and a 2010 graduate of UMW.

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