At first glance some of Johan van Mullem’s works even resemble this type of machinic seeing inside the body. Inky pools of colour conjure up sonographic or thermal imaging and suggest movement, process, flow, in short the animation of something. Some resemble nebulous vapours, others cross-sections of jewel-coloured geological specimens. In this they perhaps first bring our attention to the elemental matter that all bodies derive from. Often faces emerge from these lithic clouds, not fully distinct, but more half- perceived, like when looking at the surface of the moon, or finding a face in the knotted bark of a tree trunk.
Van Mullem (Belgium – 1959) stresses the automatic process of creating these works, they are images that are built up from layering oil-based ink onto un-primed boards and he insists that there is no starting point, and no known individual subject, which makes the works firmly reject any categorisation as portraits. Instead, finding faces is what we do as humans, to naturalise and make sense of the things that we behold. It even has a name, which is pareidolia. And this impulse to see faces in inanimate patterns is a way of processing what we perceive, but might not have the faculty to fully understand, such as the enigmatic workings of the human soul.