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Friends, family & fans remember Louisville artist Mark Anthony Mulligan

Mark Anthony Mulligan sings while walking at Bardstown Road and Bonnycastle in 1990.
Courtesy JB Calvert
Mark Anthony Mulligan sings while walking at Bardstown Road and Bonnycastle in 1990.

Mark Anthony Mulligan, a beloved Louisville folk artist, died Monday at Wedgewood Healthcare Center in Clarksville, Ind., according to his obituary. He was 59.

Mulligan was a visual artist and performer, perhaps most known for his vibrant illustrations of street scenes, packed with signs and logos.

The remembrance said Mulligan “loved telling jokes and stories, and he loved to eat. He loved God and loved singing.”

In the past few days, there’s been an outpouring of love for Mulligan online, with community members, artists and the social media accounts of art institutions sharing memories of him.

“He meant so much to people here in Louisville, for his art, his spirit, his joy, his sense of humor. He's really fun to be around, all the way up to the end,” said Gregory Luchini Maddox, who visited with Mulligan on Thanksgiving.

On the holiday, Mulligan shared a 57-page work – a mix of poem and song, accompanied with sketches, he had written over the last several months of his life with Maddox, who said it was a testament to the artist’s drive to create art no matter his circumstances.

Maddox first met Mulligan in the early 90s along Bardstown Road, where Mulligan was seen frequently. At the time, Maddox was a social worker involved in local outreach efforts to people experiencing homelessness, “so I got to know him in that capacity.” Struck by Mulligan’s art, Maddox directed a film about him called “Peacelands/Mark Anthony Mulligan,” which debuted in 2015.

“When he was very young, he would drive around Rubbertown with his family,” Maddox said of Mulligan’s recollection about his childhood. “And he would see these big gasoline containers, the real big ones that had the signs like Gulf [Oil] and Standard Oil. And I think it really caught his imagination.”

He started sketching the logos and signs he saw as a kid, and stuck with it.

A recent piece by Louisville folk artist Mark Anthony Mulligan
Courtesy the artist/Gregory Maddox
A recent piece by Louisville folk artist Mark Anthony Mulligan

Local artist and curator Albertus Gorman described Mulligan’s work as versatile and “amazingly conceptual.”

“There was just this creative drive that you could see that manifested itself in these drawings and paintings, and actually some of the performances he would do singing songs that he would also compose,” he said.

Gorman helped organize an early exhibition of Mulligan’s at the University of Cincinnati and curated a 2005 show of the folk artist’s work at the Kentucky Folk Art Center in Morehead. He said Mulligan’s work was deep, perhaps even deeper than many realized, inviting people to challenge their preconceived notions of what they saw.

“Something we see every single day and pay absolutely no attention to, in fact we may decry the fact that all this stuff is there, but Mark Anthony goes beyond that,” Gorman said, adding that Mulligan invoked spirituality into his work to say these signs and urban logos exist for a reason.

In a Gulf Oil sign, Mulligan would see the message, “God’s unique, undying love forever.”

“The fact that he was able to kind of see much more of what was happening in the urban landscape here, that he was able to kind of plug into the visual excitement,” Gorman said.

Julia Finch, the interim director at the Kentucky Folk Art Center, said visitors have told her Mulligan’s work helps them feel connected to the urban landscapes that they call home.

“He gives it a sense of intimacy by talking about his journey… his world is marked by these monuments,” she said.

The artist found ample inspiration on his lengthy TARC rides – his obituary cites his love of seeing the city “while on his many long TARC bus tours.”

TARC assistant director of transportation Darlene Franklin, who got to know Mulligan over the course of her decade as a coach operator, said she never saw him without a smile on his face.

“It was nice to be able to get him where he needed to go,” Franklin said. “As drivers, we don't always get a chance to see people who are smiling and can pass along that smile. So to actually see that every day, it was welcoming. And I just know he'll be missed.”

As an adult, the artist experienced homelessness for years. Friends and colleagues said he also struggled with some health problems. He contracted COVID-19 last year, and doctors put him on a ventilator.

Gregory Luchini Maddox hopes Mulligan is also remembered for his love for living.

“Mark proved that, despite challenges, great challenges, you can still enjoy your day,” Maddox said. “You can still get up and find things that you are excited about, relate to people, spread joy… You're never too hopeless that you can’t enjoy your life and do good things.”

That perpetual desire to find the good in life is evident in a video posted to the “Peacelands” film Facebook page. Mulligan shared these words for his fans, friends and family: “Don’t give up on life. No matter what problem you have, take it to the Lord above… Waking up and seeing the sun shine, that’s a miracle right there.”

Mulligan’s family is organizing a way for the public to pay tribute to him at the Calvary Apostolic Church in Jeffersonville, Ind. Visitation is at noon on Saturday, and the celebration service begins at 1 p.m.